Wed, Jan 12, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Australian town hit by tsunami-like flood

AP, BRISBANE, Australia

Greg Kowald was driving through the center of Toowoomba when a terrifying, tsunami-like wall of water roared through the streets of the northeast city.

Office windows exploded, cars careened into trees and bobbed in the churning brown water like corks. The deluge washed away bridges and sidewalks; people desperately clung to power poles to survive.

Before it was over, the flash flood left at least 10 dead and 78 missing.

“The water was literally leaping, six or 10 feet [1,8m to 3m] into the air, through creeks and over bridges and into parks,” Kowald, a 53-year-old musician, said yesterday. “There was -nowhere to escape, even if there had been warnings. There was just a sea of water about a kilometer wide.”

The violent surge in Toowoomba brought the overall death toll from weeks of flooding in Queensland state to 20, a sudden acceleration in a crisis that had been unfolding gradually with swollen rivers overflowing their banks and inundating towns while moving toward the ocean. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said there were “grave fears” for at least 18 of those missing.

The high waters headed next to Australia’s third-largest city, Brisbane, where up to 9,000 homes were expected to be swamped. The Brisbane River overflowed its banks yesterday and officials warned that dozens of low-lying neighborhoods and parts of downtown could be inundated in coming days.

Nothing downstream was expected to be as fierce as the flash flood that struck Toowoomba on Monday. It was sparked by a freak storm — up to 150mm fell in half an hour.

Ramia, 63, was driving downtown when the flash flood struck. He parked his car and dashed on foot for higher ground, keeping an eye on the carnage unfolding below: Cars transformed into scrap metal as they were flung into an elevated railway line, giant metal industrial bins tossed about as if made of paper, a man clinging desperately to a power pole as the relentless tide surged around him.

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