At least nine people have died in heavy flooding in Brisbane after “unprecedented” torrential downpours brought 611mm of rainfall in 24 hours, one of the three wettest days ever recorded in Australia. Thousands of people have been told to evacuate the city while others in flood-prone areas have been told to stay at home, if it is safe to do so.
Heavy rainfall in recent days initially hit Queensland, leading the mayor to describe the downpour as a “rain bomb,” before the weather system moved on to Brisbane, engorging the Brisbane river and affecting around 15,000 homes.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that 986 schools would be closed on Monday amid a general state of emergency.
Authorities have said there is widespread flooding along the Gold Coast, while parts of Brisbane have been partially submerged, with some streets' water levels approaching the first floor windows of buildings in the city of 2.5 million people.
Within the city, the Brisbane City gauge, which measures the river level, reached 3.85 metres — anything over 3.5m means the river has overflowed its banks. ABC News said the last time water levels had been this high was 2011, when the gauge reached 4.46 metres. That is still less than the all-time record of 5.45m.
The country’s weather bureau has warned that more storms are expected which could bring more “life threatening” flash floods.
Emergency crews made more than 130 swift-water rescues in 24 hours, officials said.
A search continues for a solo sailor, aged in his 70s, who fell off his vessel in the Brisbane River near the city centre on Saturday.
Police are also searching for a man missing from Goodna, west of Brisbane and another in Esk, north-west of Brisbane.
South of the Queensland border, police on Monday were searching for man after officers heard him calling for help on Sunday in floodwaters in the New South Wales town of Lismore.
Police advised businesses along the river waterfront to evacuate after a pontoon carrying a crane broke from its moorings upstream and began riding the floodwaters towards them.
Multiple emergency flood alerts were in place for Brisbane's suburbs, where 2,145 homes and 2,356 businesses were submerged on Monday. Another 10,827 properties were partially flooded above the floorboards.
Ms Palaszczuk said the rainfall over Brisbane had been extraordinary since November when authorities were considering water use restrictions due to a shortage.
“It is still a significant event, and I think everyone would agree no one has seen this amount of rain in such a short period of time” in the south-eastern area, Ms Palaszczuk said.
Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said the floods are “very different” to 2011 because the rain pummelled the region for five days.
In 2011, the rain had stopped days before the Brisbane River peaked and authorities had warned for several days of flooding downstream.
Queensland transport minister Mark Bailey said major roads had been cut off. Train and ferry services across Brisbane have also been halted, he said.
“We’re going to have localised flooding in a lot of areas for a couple of days yet,” Mr Bailey said.
Lismore is braced for its worst flooding on record, with the city centre inundated on Monday after days of unrelenting rain. About 15,000 people have been evacuated.