Australian City Empties As Floodwaters Crest

  • Floods triggered by tropical cyclone Tasha have ravaged an area in Australia the size of France and Germany combined. An entire suburb outside Ipswich, west of Brisbane, is submerged on Jan. 12.
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    Floods triggered by tropical cyclone Tasha have ravaged an area in Australia the size of France and Germany combined. An entire suburb outside Ipswich, west of Brisbane, is submerged on Jan. 12.
    AP
  • A trapped wallaby stands on a large hay bale outside the town of Dalby in Queensland.
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    A trapped wallaby stands on a large hay bale outside the town of Dalby in Queensland.
    Anthony Skerman/AP
  • This aerial photo taken Dec. 31 shows the Fairbairn Dam spilling into the Queensland town of Emerald. Floodwaters have torn a deadly path through Australia's northeast in what may be the area's worst flooding in more than three decades.
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    This aerial photo taken Dec. 31 shows the Fairbairn Dam spilling into the Queensland town of Emerald. Floodwaters have torn a deadly path through Australia's northeast in what may be the area's worst flooding in more than three decades.
    Jono Searle/Getty Images
  • Staff and friends clean foul-smelling mud from the Spinnakers bar and restaurant on the banks of the swollen Burnett River in Bundaberg. (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images
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    Staff and friends clean foul-smelling mud from the Spinnakers bar and restaurant on the banks of the swollen Burnett River in Bundaberg. (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images
  • Overturned and piled-up cars are seen in central Toowoomba on Jan. 10, after a flash flood ripped through the town center. Twelve people were confirmed dead and many more were reported missing in the Lockyer Valley.
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    Overturned and piled-up cars are seen in central Toowoomba on Jan. 10, after a flash flood ripped through the town center. Twelve people were confirmed dead and many more were reported missing in the Lockyer Valley.
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  • Residents take shelter at the RNA Showgrounds in Brisbane on Jan. 12. Several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane were evacuated.
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    Residents take shelter at the RNA Showgrounds in Brisbane on Jan. 12. Several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane were evacuated.
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  • Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (center) hugs displaced resident Sandy Kiddle as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh looks on during a visit to an evacuation center in Bundaberg on Dec. 31. The Australian government estimated the cost of cleanup and rebuilding could be as high as $5 billion.
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    Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (center) hugs displaced resident Sandy Kiddle as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh looks on during a visit to an evacuation center in Bundaberg on Dec. 31. The Australian government estimated the cost of cleanup and rebuilding could be as high as $5 billion.
    Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images
  • Residents navigate across their flooded suburb in Brisbane.
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    Residents navigate across their flooded suburb in Brisbane.
    Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images
  • Water fills Suncorp Stadium, the iconic Queensland venue for rugby and football matches.
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    Water fills Suncorp Stadium, the iconic Queensland venue for rugby and football matches.
    Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images
  • Volunteers fill sand bags at Brisbane City Council.
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    Volunteers fill sand bags at Brisbane City Council.
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  • A vehicle drives down the flooded runway at Rockhampton Airport on Jan. 5, after the swollen Fitzroy River broke its banks and inundated much of the city.
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    A vehicle drives down the flooded runway at Rockhampton Airport on Jan. 5, after the swollen Fitzroy River broke its banks and inundated much of the city.
    Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images
  • Firefighters clean mud from the Kennedy Bridge, which links the center of Bundaberg with its eastern suburbs.
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    Firefighters clean mud from the Kennedy Bridge, which links the center of Bundaberg with its eastern suburbs.
    Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images
  • Residents walk in torrential rain in the town of Maroochydore.
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    Residents walk in torrential rain in the town of Maroochydore.
    Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
  • A stuffed animal floats in a flooded suburban street in Rockhampton. (Jonathan Wood/Getty Images)'
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    A stuffed animal floats in a flooded suburban street in Rockhampton. (Jonathan Wood/Getty Images)'

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Capsized boats, barges and pieces of wharves drifted along the roiling brown currents of the Brisbane River as floodwaters crested in Australia's third largest city Wednesday.

The flotsam floated past the eerily silent streets and skyscrapers of Brisbane's central business district. Nearly 2,000 streets were underwater, and many homes and businesses were without power in some of the worst floods to hit Australia in a century. At least 16 people were killed and 43 were reported missing.

Earlier Wednesday, police urged Brisbane residents in low-lying areas to evacuate. Some 4,000 of them made their way to evacuation centers, including resident Brian Knapp.

Knapp said he had already moved his furniture out and had just enough time to drive through the water-covered streets to safety.

"Round about midday, I heard on loudspeakers, the police must have been going around saying, 'You have to get out now,'" Knapp said. "I got in the car ... to see where the water was, and it was covering the road just around the corner from us, so I went back home, told my wife, we got in the cars and probably just got through."

A stuffed animal floats in a flooded suburban street in Rockhampton. i i

A stuffed animal floats in a flooded suburban street in Rockhampton. Jonathan Wood/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Wood/Getty Images
A stuffed animal floats in a flooded suburban street in Rockhampton.

A stuffed animal floats in a flooded suburban street in Rockhampton.

Jonathan Wood/Getty Images

Jesse Dangerfield, an expectant young mother arriving at an evacuation center at a Brisbane stadium, said her house was completely underwater.

"We were one of the lucky ones," she said. "Everyone thought that it wasn't actually going to happen. ... And then it kind of felt like we were like trapped, because we didn't know where the high ground was, and it was just scary."

Things certainly could have been more chaotic and deadly. Brisbane has 2 million residents, but they're not densely concentrated. Most residents heeded police advice to get out. Only one case of looting was reported, and the city has adequate resources to cope.

Anna Bligh, the premier of the northeastern state of Queensland, predicted that on Thursday, Brisbane residents would wake up to see unprecedented damage to their city. She noted, however, that the damage would perhaps not be quite as apocalyptic as predicted.

"Brisbane has had a slight reprieve with the peak tomorrow expected slightly lower," she said. "But nevertheless an event that is going to devastate the city with anywhere between 20 and 30,000 people affected."

Bligh added she was confident that Queensland's battered economy, including its key mining and agriculture sectors, could bounce back quickly from this major setback.

"We are a large part of the Australian economy, and we're seeing some of our major industries catastrophically affected. The coal industry will take several weeks, and in some cases months, to get back to full production."

Meteorologists pin the blame for the floods on La Nina weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean. Last year was the third wettest on record for Australia, and the wet season still has two months to go.

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