2:44pm

Wed January 12, 2011
World

Residents Flee Australian City As Floodwaters Crest

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:32 am

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."

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.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Floodwaters are cresting in Australia's third largest city, Brisbane. Nearly 2,000 streets are underwater. The city's downtown has been evacuated and many homes and businesses are without power. These are some of the worst floods to hit Australia in a century. In all, 22 people have died, at least 74 are missing.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Brisbane, and has this report.

(Soundbite of rushing water)

ANTHONY KUHN: Capsized boats, barges and pieces of wharves drifted along the roiling brown currents of the Brisbane River. The flotsam floated past the eerily silent streets and skyscrapers of the central business district.

Earlier today, 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. He says he had already moved his furniture out and today he had just enough time to drive through the water-covered streets to safety.

Mr. BRIAN KNAPP: Round about midday, I heard on loudspeakers, the police must have been going around saying: You have to get out now. So I got in the car and just when down locally, just 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.

Ms. JESSE DANGERFIELD: My house is under water, completely under water, like nothing so there's nowhere else to go is there?

KUHN: Jesse Dangerfield is an expectant young mother arriving at an evacuation center at a Brisbane stadium.

Ms. DANGERFIELD: We were one of the lucky ones. Everyone thought that it wasn't actually going to happen. So we were just like, no, I'm out of here. I don't want to stay here. 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.

KUHN: 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, or governor, of the northeastern state of Queensland, predicted that on Thursday, Brisbane residents would awake see unprecedented damage to their city, although, she noted, perhaps not quite as apocalyptic as predicted.

Ms. ANNA BLIGH (Premier, Queensland, Australia): Brisbane has had a slight reprieve with the peak tomorrow expected slightly lower, but nevertheless an event that is going to devastate the city with anywhere between 20 and 30,000 people affected.

KUHN: 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.

Ms. BLIGH: 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.

KUHN: Meteorologists pin the blame for the floods on La Nina weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean. 2010 was the third wettest year on record for Australia, and the wet season still has two months to go.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Brisbane Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.