Evacuees huddle in flood-hit Brisbane

An office chair sits in the middle of an intersection along Granard Road on January 13, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. The Brisbane river peaked at 4.46 metres today - a metre less than the historic floods of 1974 that devastated the region. Brisbane city and several suburbs were inundated with waters flooding over 25,000 Brisbane homes partially or completely and leaving over 100,000 residences without power. The recent floods in Brisbane and the Lockyer Valley have claimed lives of 12 people with many more reported missing in region. (GETTY IMAGES)

A fluorescent yellow bracelet is the sign of loss for hundreds of Brisbane families, as they cram evacuation centres and pray for their flood-hit homes and possessions.

More than 500 people are sleeping on rows of mattresses at the city's sprawling RNA Showground exhibition centre, all wearing the little bracelets handed out on registration.

Iraqi student Issam, and his wife and child who recently joined him from Baghdad, were among those forced to flee at a moment's notice as the floods struck, clutching just two plastic bags full of belongings.

"It was a terrible night. We live 40 metres (yards) from the river, on the first floor," he told AFP, in the cavernous, neon-lit conference hall transformed into a teeming refugee centre.

"I was supposed to start my degree this month and this disaster happens to me. I've got nothing left - I couldn't save anything."

Similar stories are being told across the sodden state of Queensland, where about 3,500 people are relying on about 60 evacuation centres hastily set up in schools and halls for a bed, food and shelter from the pelting rain.

"We have 500 people. The maximum capacity is 3,000," said the Red Cross's Kate Brady, who is managing the Brisbane centre.

The evacuees have no idea how long they will be forced to stay in improvised shelters, and Queensland's state premier warned that many -- including thousands more sheltering with friends and relatives -- may never be able to live in their homes again.

"I think we need to prepare ourselves for this. There will be some people who will go into their homes and find that those homes will never be habitable again," she said.

In the shelter's steamy, sub-tropical heat, the acrid tang of sweat mingles with the aroma of instant noodles as evacuees queue up for food served by Salvation Army volunteers.
Law student Kirsten McCanley, 20, arrived late on Tuesday after being told to evacuate her city-centre flat.

"We were evacuated at 10:30pm (1130 GMT) by the management of the building," she said. "We had 20 minutes to leave, so we couldn't take many things.

"There was no more water and electricity. Here they give you a mattress and the food is pretty good."

Physiology teacher Nithin Narayanan, originally from Mumbai, was another who was forced to leave in a hurry as flood waters rose ahead of their peak early Thursday.

"I arrived here in the afternoon. I have seven feet (two metres) of water in my house. We live close to the river -- I had to leave really quickly," he said.

A volunteer who gave his name as Tom said that Brisbane authorities should have known what was coming, after a similar disaster inundated the state capital of two million in 1974.

"It looks as if people have built homes where they shouldn't have. We thought that after 1974 it wouldn't have happened again," he said.

"The city council had ordered (people) to build on stumps and the real estate agents told people that the (new) dam would protect them. Look at what happened - it was predictable."

 

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