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07 December 2023

Bleak dawn reveals flood-shattered Brisbane

Two men in a canoe rescue another man stranded in his West End home after floodwaters peaked early morning in Brisbane on January 13, 2011. Australia's third-largest city Brisbane was turned into a "war zone" on January 13 with whole suburbs under water and infrastructure smashed as the worst flood in decades hit 30,000 properties. (AFP)


As dawn broke over Brisbane, the morning light revealed terrible scenes: houses swallowed to the rooftops and roads turned to muddy rivers as major floods put the city under siege.

Only roofs were visible in large areas of the city on Thursday as filthy floodwaters lapped at the eaves of two-storey homes and wiped entire riverfront precincts off the map.

Streets were deserted except for the occasional canoeist and fishing boat, with rubbish bins and fridges bobbing in the muck and a glint of metal the only sign of submerged cars.

Trees uprooted by the force of the deluge were wedged awkwardly in fences and railings.

The engorged Brisbane River was awash with debris as it surged to a peak, drawing disbelieving crowds to marvel at its power as the sun rose. Seemingly solid jetties and other infrastructure were jammed at odd angles along the shoreline, dumped with intense force by the current.

"You just don't expect this catastrophe to happen in a capital city, I suppose," one onlooker said.

"We were here yesterday and there was about 1,000 people and there was just an eerie silence, people just watching things unfold in front of them," he told ABC radio.

A well-known concrete walkway was torn from its pylons and hurtled downstream, threatening to damage a major bridge across the river. Only the quick thinking of a tugboat captain shepherded it away.

Floodwaters surged up storm drains, filling the central business district with water. One high-rise building site was turned into a thundering waterfall as water spilled over the edge of a vast construction pit.

The historic Breakfast Creek Hotel was under several metres of water and the city's legendary XXXX brewery was also flooded.

Hundreds of people who scrambled to safety as the waters rose Wednesday waited anxiously in the city's evacuation centres, only able to imagine the devastation visited on their homes.

"We can't get in the house -- the water is two metres (seven feet) high," Briton Mark Williams told AFP in the devastated suburb of Milton. "Everything must be destroyed."

Those who managed to return to their flooded properties described total destruction, their possessions floating in metres of filthy water and furniture submerged and ruined.

"We have water to the waist in the living room. We have to check the amount of damage -- probably (the) electricity has to be all rebuilt," said Milton resident Brenton Ward,
reaching his home by rowing boat.

Ward, 23, said his kitchen was completely destroyed, and he was concerned about the stability of his home, which survived Brisbane's last major floods in 1974. But he was optimistic that the most important things had been saved.

"(We) managed to save papers, clothes, documents, passports, some books and the main TV," Ward told AFP. "Otherwise, how could we watch (the) cricket?"