Torrential downpours ravaged eastern Australia on Saturday, sending deadly flooding to decades-long heights, flooding homes and wiping out cars.
Police in the eastern state of Queensland said they had found the body of a 37-year-old man, bringing the number of deaths from flooding to five since the beginning of this week. At least one person is still missing.
Images of South East Queensland broadcast on Australian media showed houses and roads flooded, areas turned into lakes and a large section of a concrete pier floating along the fast-flowing Brisbane River.
The water grabbed the car of a team of four rescuers who were on their way last night to rescue a family from their flooded home, state police disaster coordinator Steve Gollschewski said.
“The vehicle they were traveling in was swept off the road and flooded. Three of our members were rescued. One of those members has died,” Gollschewski told a news conference.
Elsewhere, the body of another man was found overnight.
“In some parts of South East Queensland, this is the biggest event they will see in a few decades,” said State Police and Emergency Services Secretary Mark Ryan.
“And the rain hasn’t stopped — in fact there are some parts where it gets more intense.”
The Queensland town of Gympie faced “a lot of water” as the Mary River rose, Gympie mayor Glen Hartwig said through national broadcaster ABC.
At the city’s Royal Hotel “you can’t have beer without a submarine or snorkel,” Hartwig said.
“It’s floor to ceiling and in some areas over the roof.”
– ‘Dangerous’ –
Queensland Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Mary River at Gympie could rise above 21 meters. It may be higher than the level last seen there in February 1999, the bureau of meteorology said.
As a precautionary measure, Queensland would issue evacuation warnings, targeting about 700 residents of the Gympie area, the prime minister said.
“If we don’t do this now, people will become isolated and trapped,” she warned.
The prime minister said her “heart goes out” to the volunteer emergency worker, 62-year-old Merryl Dray, who died “while trying to save her community”.
Emergency services had responded to more than 1,800 calls for help in southeastern Queensland within 24 hours, officials said.
Rainfall in some parts of the state surpassed records going back decades, said Queensland senior meteorologist David Grant.
He predicted more rain for Sunday as the weather system cleared more slowly than expected.
“There will now be an increased risk of dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding, and even the potential for localized landslides,” he told a news conference.
Heavy rain also hit the capital Brisbane.
“Essentially we’ve seen a month of rain fall in one day in Brisbane alone,” Grant said.
Rescuers made 132 rescues in fast water within 24 hours, said Greg Leach, Queensland Fire and Emergency Commissioner.
“Our catchments are completely saturated. Our rivers are rising. We have flash floods. Now is not the time to go south east Queensland if you don’t have to,” Leach said.
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