Flash Flooding Thumps Northeastern Australia, Leaving at Least 7 Dead
MELBOURNE, Australia — At least seven people have died from the flash flooding that has battered northeastern Australia in the past few days, with the wild weather forcing residents to evacuate and schools to close, while thousands of homes have been left inundated.
Queensland has been hardest hit, with torrential rain pummeling towns and cities and slowly moving south toward the state’s capital, Brisbane, which was bracing on Sunday for another night of heavy deluges.
About 1,400 homes in Brisbane are considered by the authorities to be at risk. Across Queensland, more than 1,000 people have been evacuated and around 34,000 homes were without power over the weekend. Hundreds of schools will be closed on Monday, and officials have asked residents to work from home.
Australia has been buffeted by particularly extreme weather over the past few years, including catastrophic fires, drought and widespread flooding.
According to experts, the country, a giant landmass as large as the continental United States and surrounded by climate-driving oceans, has suffered weather extremes for millenniums, including harsh droughts ending with major floods. But though some of the factors driving those swings are ageless, climate change is increasing the likelihood of severe downpours.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, the state premier of Queensland, on Sunday described the latest calamity as a “rain bomb.”
“It’s just coming down in buckets,” she said at a news conference. “It’s not a waterfall, it’s like waves of water just coming down.”
Ms. Palaszczuk compared the wild weather to an “unpredictable cyclone” and said that the authorities had not expected the storm system to sit over the state for so long.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia described the situation as “very concerning” and urged residents to stay inside their homes.
“It’s going to be a very anxious night in Brisbane as we see the rain continue to fall,” he said on Sunday.
Seven people have died since Wednesday, the authorities said, with six in Queensland and one in the state of New South Wales.
The latest was a 34-year-old Brisbane man who died trying to escape his submerged car on Sunday morning. Others include a volunteer emergency worker who died when her vehicle was swept away while she was on her way to help a family trapped by the floodwaters.
Photographs and videos posted to social media showed houses submerged to their roofs and floodwater touching the tops of traffic lights.
Some have taken to using boats, including kayaks, to get around, and footage of one person going swimming in a flooded cricket ground spread quickly on social media, though the authorities have urged residents to stay out of the water.
The town of Gympie, where two deaths occurred, saw its worst flooding since 1893.
Beaches along the Gold Coast, near Brisbane, and the Sunshine Coast, north of the city — which are iconic vacation locations — were closed on Sunday because of dangerous surf conditions.
The heaviest rain is forecast to move south in the coming days, to New South Wales, where the authorities are already urging some residents in riskier areas to evacuate.
The last time Queensland faced similarly catastrophic flooding was in 2011, when 33 people were killed after torrential rain fell over several weeks. That disaster affected over 200,000 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.