For weeks, the flooding in eastern Australia has been a slow-motion disaster, with drenching rain devastating wide swaths of farmland and small towns. Now, rivers are rising in Brisbane, the country's third-largest city, forcing people to flee both suburbs and skyscrapers.
Flooding that has unfolded since late November across the waterlogged state of Queensland turned suddenly violent Monday, with a cloudburst sending a raging torrent down the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane. Hundreds had to be rescued by helicopter Tuesday.
Greg Kowald was driving through the center of the town of Toowoomba when the terrifying wall of water roared through the streets, carrying away cars and people.
"The water was literally leaping, six or 10 feet into the air, through creeks and over bridges and into parks," Kowald, 53, told the Associated Press. "There was nowhere to escape, even if there had been warnings. There was just a sea of water about (a half-mile) wide."
The flash flood killed 10 people and left more than 90 missing, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said. That raised to 20 the number of confirmed dead in all the previous weeks from high water.
Helicopters and other emergency vehicles were moving into the worst-hit towns in the valley early today, and Bligh warned that the death toll would likely rise.
Windows exploded, cars bobbed in the churning brown water and people desperately clung to utility poles to survive in Toowoomba. Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson described it as "an inland instant tsunami."
"What we saw in Toowoomba was the water rise at lightning speed. Mother Nature has unleashed something shocking out of the Toowoomba region, and we've seen it move very quickly down the range," Bligh said.
In Brisbane, 80 miles east of Toowoomba, Mayor Campbell Newman said almost 20,000 homes in low-lying areas of the city of about 2 million were expected to be swamped by Thursday, when the river system is predicted to crest near the levels of a devastating 1974 flood.
Queensland has been swamped by floods for weeks that covered an area the size of France and Germany combined. Entire towns have been swamped, more than 200,000 people have been affected, and the vital coal industry, ranching and farming have virtually shut down.
Bligh said last week the cost of the floods could be as high as $5 billion, the latest figure available.