Dozens missing from flooding in Australian valleyTuesday, January 11, 2011
Military helicopters searched Tuesday for scores of people missing after a tsunami-like wall of water ripped through an Australian valley, tossing cars like toys in the deadliest episode of a weekslong flood crisis.
At least 10 people were killed and 78 still unaccounted for almost 24 hours after the flash flood hurled untold millions of gallons of water down Queensland state's Lockyer Valley on Monday, state Premier Anna Bligh said. Authorities had grave fears for at least 18 of the missing, she said.
The valley funneled rain from a freak storm _ forecasters estimated up to 6 inches (150 millimeters) fell in half an hour near Toowoomba city _ into a stream that formed a path of destruction, lifting houses from foundations.
The torrent slowed and spread out as it moved downstream toward the state capital of Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city with some 2 million people.
The Brisbane River overflowed its banks Tuesday and officials warned that thousands of houses in dozens of low-lying neighborhoods and parts of downtown could be inundated by Thursday. Residents queued for up to four hours outside emergency services depots on Tuesday to get sandbags to try to protect their homes, and shoppers stocked up on bottled water, milk and fuel. Residents in at least three suburbs were asked to prepare their homes, then go and stay with friends or family on higher ground.
The violent surge near Toowoomba on Monday escalated Australia's flood crisis in Queensland state and brought the overall death toll to 20. Until then, the flooding had unfolded slowly as swollen rivers burst their banks and inundated towns while moving downstream toward the ocean.
Emergency services officers plucked more than 40 people from houses isolated overnight by the torrent that hit the Lockyer Valley, and thousands moved out of were being evacuated. In one small community, Forest Hill, the entire population of about 300 was airlifted to safety in military helicopters, Bligh said.
In Ipswich, a town of 15,000 people between Toowoomba and Brisbane, hundreds of residents moved in with friends and family or into an evacuation center on high ground as officials warned the swollen Bremer River would flood dozens of homes overnight Tuesday, Mayor Paul Pisasale said.
As Tuesday progressed, the death toll rose from eight to ten. At an evening afternoon news conference, Bligh said officials held grave fears for 18 of the 78 people missing. She did not elaborate.
The search and rescue effort was being hampered by thunderstorms and more driving rain, though the bad weather eased during the day and Bligh said the search would get easier on Wednesday.
Queensland has been in the grip of its worst flooding for more than two weeks, after tropical downpours across a vast area of the state covered an area the size of France and Germany combined. Entire towns have been swamped, more than 200,000 people affected, and coal and farming industries virtually shut down.
Monday's flash flooding struck without warning in Toowoomba, a city of some 90,000 people nestled in mountains 2,300 feet (700 meters) above sea level. Bligh said an intense deluge fell over a concentrated area, sending a 26-foot (eight-meter), fast-moving torrent crashing through Toowoomba and smaller towns further down the valley.
Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson described the events Monday as "an inland instant tsunami."
As the water was pushed its way downstream, officials closed roads and highways and told residents in low-lying area of Brisbane to sandbag their homes and then move to higher ground.
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