Thousands of Brisbane residents are rushing to empty their homes and evacuate to higher ground before the Brisbane River reaches a peak of 18ft on Thursday.
As the death toll from the devastating floods swamping Queensland rose to 12, with another 51 people missing, the state capital braced for widespread flooding across more than 50 suburbs.
In what Anna Bligh, the premier, called “the worst natural disaster in our history”, the most recent estimates suggest that 19,700 homes and 3,500 businesses will be hit by the rapidly rising water.
In preparation, residents of low-lying neighbourhoods were trying to protect their homes with sandbags and tarpaulins and remove their most precious possessions before the peak.
In some places water rose more than three feet in a matter of hours, catching many homeowners off-guard.
In the suburb of Milton, close to the banks of the river, Meredith Evans was moving all of her worldly possessions as high up as possible.
“We just don’t know how bad it is going to get, but we are preparing for the worst,” she said.
Mrs Evans, her husband and two children, will spend the coming days staying with friends on higher ground and hoping that their home survives the flood.
“The water rose at one step an hour on the back steps, all of the garden is under, so we don’t know what we will find when we get back.”
Elsewhere in the area, scores of volunteers were forming human chains to move furniture from homes onto the back of waiting trucks, as the muddy water climbed inch by inch.
In the low-lying neighbourhood of Rosalie, the water had already inundated the main street, reaching almost to the awnings of shops and engulfing several homes. The only way to navigate the handful of streets already under water was by boat. By mid-afternoon, the waters were lapping at the tops of roadsigns and were estimated to be up to 6ft deep.
Petrol stations nearby were clogged with drivers filling up amid fears that the city could run low on fuel during the flood peak, which is expected to last until Saturday at the earliest.
Despite blue skies and sweltering temperatures, the flood emergency was in full effect across the city.
In the centre of Brisbane, police were preparing to blow up several large ferries and pleasure craft that had come loose from their moorings in an attempt to prevent them becoming “floating torpedoes” in the river’s raging current.
Across the central business district, streets emptied as the public transport system was suspended and power was cut to several blocks.
Most shops in the usually bustling Queens Street Mall were closed and pools of water lapped over main thoroughfares.
Water levels overnight are expected to exceed those during the last major flood – in 1974 – which killed 14 people and crippled the city.
Ms Bligh warned residents that the next 48 hours would be crucial.
“We’ve seen some dark days already, but the darkest days are still ahead,” she said.
“This is a very serious event, it will create enormous disruption and dislocation.”