‘Rain Bomb’ hits northeastern Australia, killing at least 8 people

MELBOURNE, Australia – At least nine people have died from flash floods that have hit northeastern Australia in recent days, as savage weather forced residents to evacuate and schools to close, while thousands of homes were flooded.

Queensland has been hardest hit, with torrential rains battering cities since last Tuesday and moving slowly south to engulf the state capital, Brisbane.

Photographs and videos of the city On Monday morning, the Brisbane River was 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, authorities say, including around 15,000 in Brisbane. More than 1,500 people were evacuated and around 53,000 homes were without power Monday morning. Hundreds of schools are closed and authorities have asked residents to work from home. Residents have been urged to conserve water after flooding knocked out a water treatment plant on Sunday. By Monday morning, the rain had eased and the Brisbane River had peaked at 12.6ft. It was expected to peak again in the afternoon.

The heaviest rain is moving south into New South Wales, where the town of Lismore is experiencing its worst flooding on record. Torrential rain on Sunday evening caught authorities off guard and left residents with little time to evacuate, with many becoming trapped in attics and stranded on rooftops as floodwaters rose rapidly.

Steve Krieg, the mayor of Lismore, on Monday described the situation as “a tragedy unfolding before our eyes”, adding that 400 people were believed to have been trapped.

Stranded residents have taken to social media to ask for help. Residents reported hearing people screaming for help inside homes, and as floodwaters continued to rise, some resorted to self-cutting roofs, locals said on social media.

Officials expect the city’s river to peak at around 52 fresh Monday night. More than 15,000 people have been told to evacuate along the NSW north coast, and the military has been deployed to help evacuation efforts.

Australia has been rocked by particularly extreme weather in recent years, including catastrophic fires, drought and widespread flooding.

Experts say the country, a giant landmass the size of the continental United States and surrounded by climate-influencing oceans, has endured extreme weather for millennia, including severe droughts ending in major floods. But while some of the factors driving these fluctuations are ageless, climate change is increasing the likelihood of heavy downpours.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet called Monday’s flooding “unprecedented” and warned conditions would worsen through the week as the storm system continued to move towards South.

“There are many distressing reports, particularly around the Lismore area, of people who are isolated and currently stranded,” he added.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland’s premier, on Sunday described the latest calamity as a “rain bomb”.

“It’s just falling into buckets,” she told a press conference. “It’s not a waterfall, it’s like waves of water going down.”

Ms Palaszczuk likened the weather to an “unpredictable cyclone” and said authorities did not expect the storm system to sit in the state for so long.

Of the nine people who have died since Wednesday, eight were in Queensland and one in the state of New South Wales, authorities said.

The body of a man in his 50s and that of his dog were found in his car on the Gold Coast on Monday morning after the vehicle was swept away by floodwaters.

Others include a 34-year-old Brisbane man who died trying to escape his submerged car on Sunday morning and a volunteer rescue worker who died when her vehicle was swept away while on her way to help a family trapped by flood waters.

In Brisbane, even residents accustomed to the wild climate – Queensland experiences floods almost every year – were taken aback by the relentless pace of rain that inundated the city for four days in a row.

“It kept raining,” said Sandy Casey, 77, who evacuated from his Brisbane home on Sunday afternoon. “The water kept coming – we watched it come up to the house.”

She stayed home until the power went out, she said. By then, the roads were too flooded to cross, so she crossed several backyards that were on high ground to make it a place where she could be picked up and driven to safety.

Photographs and videos posted on social media showed houses submerged to their roofs and floodwaters touching the tops of traffic lights.

Some took it for use boats, including kayaks, to get around although authorities have urged residents to stay out of the water.

The town of Gympie, where two deaths occurred, suffered its worst flooding since 1893.

The last time Queensland faced similar catastrophic flooding was in 2011 when 33 people were killed after weeks of torrential rain. This disaster affected more than 200,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Meghan Dance contributed report.

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