Brisbane: Australia`s third-largest city Brisbane braced for the arrival Thursday of the peak of its worst floods in decades, with more than 30,000 homes under threat, as the death toll rose to 13.
Thousands of people fled to higher ground and Brisbane`s centre was a "ghost town" with the river city of two million battened down for its worst deluge in decades, while deadly floods inundated vast areas of Australia`s northeast.
More than 50 suburbs and 2,100 roads were expected to be left under water as the Brisbane River bursts its banks and swamps the city centre, along with other areas.
"Brisbane will go to sleep tonight and wake up to scenes that they have, many of them, never seen anything like in their lives," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned late Wednesday, with flooding expected to affect 36,000 homes and businesses.
The river was predicted to peak at around 4:00 am on Thursday (1800 GMT Wednesday) under 5.0 metres (16 feet), further revised down from an earlier forecast of 5.5 metres and lower than the levels reached in the last major floods in 1974.
The toll from the floods reached 13 after police confirmed the death of a 50-year-old man in Ipswich, a town upstream from Brisbane.
Power was cut to tens of thousands of premises and some residents headed to evacuation centres as boats and floating restaurants broke their moorings and careered down the swollen Brisbane River, smashing into bridges.
Bligh warned that "we are bracing for a massive amount of water coming into this river system and it will flood thousands of properties", but said she believed that region would "recover very quickly".
"We accept for many it`ll be a long slow road but getting our economy back and ticking quickly is one of the first priorities of the taskforce that is already working on recovery," she said.
Arran Corbett from Sontek, which monitors river flows, told the AAP news agency the river was flowing very rapidly at 9,400 cubic metres a second.
"To put it into perspective, that will fill about 1,000 Olympic pools in a second," he said.
Damage was intense, with witnesses spotting entire houses in the river. The military considered scuttling a landmark ferry and a well-known restaurant that were in danger of floating away.
"We expect the CBD (central business district) of our capital city to be looking and feeling a lot like a ghost town around about now," said Bligh.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the disaster`s scale "mind-boggling", but urged people to help their neighbours during the city`s worst emergency since the 1974 floods.
Brisbane, the cosmopolitan state capital and economic hub, is the latest and biggest victim of floods caused by months of rains that have turned three-quarters of Queensland into a disaster zone twice the size of Texas.
Panic-buying stripped supermarket shelves of essential supplies and the downtown 52,500-capacity Suncorp Stadium resembled a giant swimming pool, while the XXXX brewery closed its doors.
Garbage collections and bus services were cancelled, traffic lights were out of action and Brisbane`s port was open only for emergency supplies. Sewage from flooded homes spilled into the gathering torrents.
Isolated ATM cash machines were running out of money and residents were told to conserve drinking water in case supplies were cut.
More than 1,000 people jammed evacuation centres in nearby Ipswich, where 3,000 homes were deluged. Rural Condamine was evacuated for the second time, along with two towns in neighbouring state New South Wales.
Some of the inundation was related to flash floods that smashed through towns high in the Great Dividing Range to the city`s west on Monday, leaving at least 12 dead as rescuers combing wrecked communities found two more bodies.
Two people who were swept away, presumed dead, later turned up alive, in what police commissioner Bob Atkinson called "a small piece of wonderful news".
"I can only describe it as a miracle," he said. Newspapers also hailed the remarkable birth of a baby boy in a flood-bound home as the waters surged.