Five people have been swept to their deaths by flash flooding in northeastern Australia, officials said yesterday, after what the state premier described as an “off-the-scale” deluge.
Queensland State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had warned that the Australian weather bureau had forecast extremely heavy weather for southeast Queensland on Friday afternoon.
However, in announcing the first three deaths late on Friday, Palaszczuk said that a deluge of 277mm of rain fell in the area where the deaths occurred in just three hours.
“This is off the scale,” she said.
Police said four of the deaths occurred when two four-wheel drive vehicles were swept away from the same bridge in Caboolture, 44km north of Brisbane on Friday afternoon.
In the first accident, a 74-year-old man, a 39-year-old woman and a five-year-old boy all died.
In the second, two passengers — a 21-year-old woman and a boy aged 16 — managed to escape. The body of the driver, a 49-year-old man, was found early yesterday.
In a third fatal incident involving vehicles being swept away, a 75-year-old man died in nearby Burpengary, but police were able to rescue a 68-year-old woman found clinging to a tree.
“We are devastated,” Queensland Minister of Police, Fire and Emergency Jo-Ann Miller said as she revealed that authorities had received about 4,000 calls for assistance over a five-hour period on Friday afternoon.
Almost 60 swift-water rescues were conducted as the storm hit, she said.
Police warned again of the dangers of driving into floodwaters.
“It’s unfortunate that with events like this, we again need to highlight to the community the dangers of entering flooded road waters. If it’s flooded, forget it,” Queensland Police Inspector Lee Jeffries said. “The reports that I have is that the roads were well-and-truly flooded at the time and vehicles have entered flooded roads.”
Southeast Queensland was lashed by the storm, which forced the postponement of a rugby league Test between Australia and New Zealand in Brisbane.
Torrential rains closed roads, prompted dozens of rescues and cut power to thousands of homes.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the federal government would assist Queensland in the wake of the deadly storms.
“Obviously our thoughts and our prayers are with the families of those who have suffered,” he said.
The weather bureau said yesterday that the worst of the storm was over for Queensland, and the weather was weakening as it moved south into New South Wales.
“Apart from still some pretty wild surf conditions along the coast, apart from that, the event is pretty much over for us in southeast Queensland,” Australian Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Jonty Hall told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
New South Wales was hit by wild weather last month that left four people dead and caused millions of dollars in damage across Sydney and surrounding areas.
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