‘Rain Bomb’ Hits Northeastern Australia, Killing at Least 8
MELBOURNE, Australia — At least eight 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 hit the hardest, with torrential rain pummeling towns and cities and slowly moving south to engulf the state’s capital, Brisbane.
Photographs and videos from the city on Monday morning showed the Brisbane River extremely swollen and many streets severely flooded, with extensive damage to roads, buildings and vehicles caught in the downpour. Usually busy thoroughfares were submerged.
Up to 18,000 homes across the state have been affected, the authorities estimated, with about 15,000 of those in Brisbane. More than 1,000 people have been evacuated and about 53,000 homes were without power on Monday morning. Hundreds of schools are closed, and officials have asked residents to work from home.
On Monday morning, the rain had eased and the Brisbane River had peaked at 12.6 feet. It was expected to peak again in the afternoon.
The heaviest rain is moving south to New South Wales, where the town of Lismore is experiencing its worst flooding on record. Torrential rain on Sunday night caught the authorities off guard and left residents little time to evacuate, with many becoming stranded on roofs as floodwaters quickly rose.
With emergency services overwhelmed, some have taken to social media to beg for help. Officials expect the town’s river to peak at about 46 fee on Monday afternoon.
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 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 in 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.
Of the eight people who have died since Wednesday, seven were in Queensland and one was in the state of New South Wales, the authorities said.
The latest was a 59-year-old Brisbane man who was swept away by floodwaters as he was crossing a road on Sunday afternoon. Others include a 34-year-old Brisbane man who died trying to escape his submerged car on Sunday morning and 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 famous vacation locations — were closed on Sunday because of dangerous surf conditions.
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.