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Queensland floods could be worst in Australian history

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA - Pacific Beat Updated January 11, 2011 17:02:46

There are now predictions that devastating floods hitting the Australian state of Queensland could come close to being the worst in the country's history.

Raging torrents working their way east combined with continuing heavy rains and a forecast king tide, are now threatening the state capital of Brisbane, where shocked residents from more than thirty suburbs, including the central business district, are already being evacuated.

Further west, emergency personnel continued to battle bad weather to look for more than seventy people listed as missing after a wall of boiling, brown water, seven metres high, smashed through the inland city of Toowoomba, raging downstream to engulf several low lying towns and leaving at least eight dead.

Simply shocking is how Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has described the scenes, sympathising with the bereaved and warning the death toll is likely to rise.

Presenter: Linda Mottra,
Speakers: Holly Webster from the town of Gatton; Weather official Jim Davidson; Queensland state premier Anna Bligh; Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard

MOTTRAM: In the grip of the most severe El Nina weather pattern in nearly four decades, Queensland's flood crisis continues to unfold, with often dry creek beds turned into surging, floodwaters sweeping everything before them, as witnessed by Holly Webster in the town of Gatton.

WEBSTER: Irrigation pipes, fridges, freezers, tables, furniture, gazebos, cows, logs, huge trees.

MOTTRAM: Emergency personnel have tethered themselves with ropes to pull desperate and dazed residents from raging torrents. Others have been plucked from the remaining peaks of rooves barely above the menacing waters. Its all the the product of a low pressure system and heavier than expected localised rain over a point on the top of the Great Dividing Range that funnelled water perfectly into the towns of Queensland's Lockyer valley. Weather official Jim Davidson described the grave conjunction of conditions.

DAVIDSON: The super rainstorm we saw yesterday over Toowoomba and the Lockyer valley was an extreme event and you'd say it was towards the top of the severe weather and flash flooding scale. It was very unique.

MOTTRAM: And its all still travelling downstream. Its set to hit the already brimming Wivenhoe Dam, from which water will have to be released. The state capital, Brisbane, is directly in the path of that flow .. as more very heavy rain falls on already saturated ground. In one four hour stretch during the day, 250 millimetres or ten inches of rain fell on parts of the Wivenhoe Dam catchment. And a king tide is also forecast. Evacuations are continuing in both Brisbane and the nearby city of Ipswitch amid predictions of flood peaks of up to 18 metres in some areas.

The Queensland state premier Anna Bligh looked tired and grim and fought back tears at one point as she spoke to reporters to describe the impact of the seemingly relentless barrage against her state.

BLIGH: There's no doubt that we are now in I think a very different sort of disaster and what it is doing is testing our emergency response and it will test us as communities and as people. This weather I thinik is um, it might be breaking our hearts at the moment but it will not break our will. What we have out there on the front line is some of the best trained people in Australia and they are going to protect these communities and we are going to make sure that we keep everybody that we can as safe as humanly possible.

MOTTRAM: After being briefed by national security and emergency officials, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered sympathies to the families of the dead and to those still waiting for news of missing loved ones. The nation should she said brace itself for further loss of live. It was a very dire situation, she said, the scenes simply shocking she said.

GILLARD: Literally walls of water smashing in to cars and to buildings. We've seen very dramatic dramatic images of cars tossed around, of people on roofs of houses and on the roofs of cars and people literally hanging on for dear life to trees and to sign posts. I'm sure those images have shocked Australians.

MOTTRAM: Ms Gillard promised that whatever was needed would be forthcoming for Queensland.

GILLARD: We will continue to provide the support of the Australian Defence Force and I have made it very clear to Premier Anna Bligh that any resource she needs from the Australian Defence Force will be made available to the people of Queensland to assist them during this very difficult period.

MOTTRAM: Australia has also accepted help from New Zealand, which has sent fifteen emergency personnel to Queensland last Saturday. And along with messages of support and condolence from around the world, Ms Gillard said Canberra was considering whether it needed to accept assistance offered by other countries.

GILLARD: In our own region we've had similar offers from China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Sri Lanka as well as from East Timor and New Caledonia. We are taking advice of our emergency services experts about whether we need to accept those offers and action particular forms of assistance.

MOTTRAM: There would be a very big price tag for the damage, Ms Gillard told journalists ... many hundreds of millions of dollars covering inundated farms, crushed infrastructure, ruined businesses and shattered lives. But its the immediate crisis that remains the focus for now, with the prospect that bad weather could persist for days yet.

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