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Floodwaters pour through streets of Brisbane ; 15,000 homes inundated

Residents of Australia's third-largest city woke Thursday to find their community submerged in muddy water after floodwaters pouring through streets reached their crest.

Thousands of homes were filled with water, and many areas were without electricity.

In one spot of bright news, the swollen Brisbane River's peak was about 3 feet lower than predicted, at a depth slightly below that of the 1974 floods that swept the city.

Still, waters in some areas had reached the tops of roofs, shut down roads and power and devastated entire neighborhoods. An estimated 15,000 homes had been inundated.

"This is still a very dangerous situation, and we have thousands of people who are waking this morning to the total devastation of either their homes, businesses -- for some people it's both," Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "We are facing a reconstruction effort of postwar proportions."

The flooding, which has killed 22 people since late November, has submerged dozens of towns -- some three times -- and left an area the size of Germany and France combined under water. Highways and rail lines have been washed away in the disaster, which is shaping up to be Australia's costliest ever.

At least 74 people are missing, and the death toll is expected to rise. Many of those unaccounted for disappeared from around Toowoomba, a city west of Brisbane that saw massive flash floods sweep away cars, road signs and people. Twelve died in that flood alone.

In Brisbane, roads were flooded, railway lines were cut and sewage began spilling into the floodwaters. People moved about in kayaks, rowboats and even on surfboards. Boats torn from their moorings floated down an engorged river. Brisbane's office buildings stood empty.

One tale has particularly transfixed the country: a 13-year-old boy caught in the flood who told strangers to save his 10-year-old brother first and died as a result.

Jordan and Blake Rice were in the car with their mother, Donna, when a wall of water pummeled Toowoomba on Monday. After the torrent of water knocked one rescuer over, another man managed to reach the car, The Australian newspaper reported. At Jordan's insistence, he pulled Blake out first, according to a third brother, Kyle.

"Courage kicked in, and he would rather his little brother would live," the 16-year-old told the newspaper. Jordan and his mother were washed away before the men were able to get back to them.

By Wednesday, Jordan's name was among the top 10 most used terms on Twitter, as a wave of tweets hailed him as a "true hero" of the Queensland floods.

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