Thousands of Brisbane residents were forced to leave their homes yesterday as the city braced itself for its worst flooding in more than a century.
The devastating Queensland floods have claimed at least 10 lives in the past two days and left more than 70 people missing yesterday after a torrent raged through the streets of Toowoomba, west of Brisbane.
The Brisbane River breached its banks in several places to engulf parks and footbridges and heavy rain continued to fall on the state capital city.
The main roads and public transport system became clogged quickly as people rushed to get to higher ground.
The authorities called for calm amid reports of panic buying. Police asked for volunteers to help fill sandbags as the scale of the threat became clearer.
Estimates suggested that more than 9,000 homes and businesses could be flooded when the Brisbane River peaks at 12ft today. The destruction was already evident yesterday, with a steady stream of debris, including boats and whole pontoons, floating down the river.
Record floods in 1893 dumped the gunship Paluma on the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, while in 1974, a torrent killed 16 people.
Power will be cut in the city centre today for safety reasons, leaving more than 5,000 homes without electricity. A disaster zone had been declared for a third of Queensland, giving police extra powers to force residents to leave.
Brisbane, Australia's third largest city with two million people, was under siege on four fronts.
Julia Gillard, the prime minister, said the "very dire situation" was caused by flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley to the west, large volumes of water running down the Brisbane River and a king tide.
Towns located to the west and north of Brisbane were isolated by the floodwaters.
About 300 people were being airlifted from the Lockyer Valley town of Forest Hill and the outlook was desperate for Ipswich, where water was expected to inundate a third of the town. In Grantham, which bore the brunt of the torrent from Toowoomba, there were scenes of severe destruction.
Miss Gillard, who was last night flying to Brisbane, warned the nation to be prepared for the death toll to rise. Anna Bligh, the premier of Queensland, fought back tears as she described the events as "our darkest hour".(© Daily Telegraph, London)