Australian City Empties As Floodwaters Crest Brisbane's downtown has been evacuated, nearly 2,000 streets are underwater, and many homes and businesses are without power. Yet Queensland's governor said she was confident the region would bounce back.
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Australian City Empties As Floodwaters Crest

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Australian City Empties As Floodwaters Crest

Australian City Empties As Floodwaters Crest

Australian City Empties As Floodwaters Crest

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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. Jonathan Wood/Getty Images hide caption

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Jonathan Wood/Getty Images

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.