Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Grim search begins for bodies in what is left of Grantham


Soldiers and police methodically pick through the ruins of the tiny town of Grantham, where a wall of water snatched 16 people as 14 others vanished in Australia’s “Valley of Death.”

Residents had little warning of the flash floods that tore through the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane last Monday, ripping houses from their foundations and tossing cars from the road. Dozens had to scramble to rooftops and cling to tree branches as the brown tide thundered by, gathering up everything in its path.

“[There were] just houses falling apart and floating away, and people clinging to tree branches all night that had broken arms and legs,” Grantham resident Sharon Watkins said at the Helidon evacuation center. “Just watching everyone around you calling for help, not being able to do anything, trying to get yourself out alive.”

Sixteen people were killed by the torrent — trapped in submerged homes and cars or swept up in the raging waters — while another 14 are missing. One woman’s body was found 68km downstream.

Home to just 200 people, the town was razed by water of such unimaginable force it has been called an “inland tsunami.”

For every tale of survival there is one of horror — the man stranded for 12 hours on his rooftop who reached out to help locals caught in the churning waters “thinking they were trying to swim.”

“You saw arms, hands, gray hair, and that was it, by the time you knelt down you realize they’re not swimming, they are already gone,” Martin Warburton told commercial television this week. “The water was that turbulent it was just throwing them around ... I can’t describe it, I just can’t describe it.”

Steven and Sandra Matthews managed to lift their children, aged 15 and 20, into the roof cavity of their home, before floodwaters swept them to their deaths.

“People have seen terrible things,” Rachel, 43, said. “My daughter was on the bank of the river, she saw on the other bank a mother and her daughter on the roof of a car. The car was washed away in the river by the wall of water and the two disappeared.”

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