Five people are dead, at least three people are missing with grave fears held for their safety, and tens of thousands of evacuated residents remain unable to return to their homes as Cyclone Debbie’s torrential aftermath continues to reap its harvest of destruction.
From Lismore in NSW to Rockhampton in Queensland, the news was bad – and likely to get worse.
In the town of Logan, south of Brisbane, some evacuated homeowners returned as the flood waters receded. What many found was heartbreaking – possessions swept away, floors and walls caked with mud, no electricity and many streets still submerged.
In Lismore, piles of ruined, discarded furniture and sodden mattresses have begun to mushroom on streets caked with layers of mud that is inches deep.
With electricity supplies disrupted and no safe drinking water, locals face a Herculean task to get the ravaged town back on its feet.
“We’ve all banded together. I’ve cooked for all these people, because I’ve got a gas stove, so you do that,” Lismore resident Joanne Hourigan told the ABC.
“But then you’ve just got other people … just stopping, and we’ve just had a few people laughing at how much rubbish, and we’re there working away, and trying to help the people we can help.
“That’s the disappointing part.”
At least in Lismore the flooding has receded.
In Rockhamptom, anxious locals are awaiting the peak flow now rolling toward the town
In the Hunter Valley, the body of a 64-year-old woman was found submerged in four metres of water on Friday afternoon, the day after her car was swept off a causeway at Gungal.
The discovery came after the body of another woman was found on a property south of Murwillumbah around 8am on Friday.
Sky News is reporting police are searching for a 77-year-old man missing in flood waters in Eagleby in Queensland.
We currently have 4 people missing (associated with the weather event) that we have serious concerns about.
— QPS Media Unit (@QPSmedia) March 31, 2017
When the raging tropical depression came ashore in North Queensland earlier in the week it looked for a while as if scared residents had enjoyed a lucky, if not pleasant, escape. Debbie’s raging winds petered out after making landfall and property damage, while substantial, could not match the havoc wrought by Cyclone Yasi in 2011.
Then came the sting in Debbie’s wicked tail, which lashed to the south and submerged entire communities in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales as driving rain rolled south along the coast.
Up to 6000 residents in Lismore were ordered to evacuate as major flooding took hold along the Wilsons River.
East Lismore real estate agent Katrina Beohm was typical. She spent Friday sandbagging and mopping out rainwater from her shopfront in East Lismore, painfully aware that there would be more hard work and heartbreak to come.
“We’ve still got some water expected to peak which will come over the floodwater and if that happens, it’s unknown what will happen,” she told AAP. “We’re just preparing for another incident through the night.”
Aerial pictures of Lismore make it hard to believe things could get any worse than they were. But that was a false hope.
As far as he eye could see the landscape had become a seascape, the flood punctuated by islands of red, green, silver and terracotta. They were the roofs of houses swallowed by the tide.
At Upper Burringbar, 20 kilometres south Murwillumbah in northern NSW, a family’s worst fears were confirmed when the body of a woman swept away on Thursday night was found on Friday morning.
It was a family member who found her, police said. The woman, whose name has not been released, became the state’s first fatality.
The NSW SES advised residents within the South Murwillumbah, Condong and Tumbulgum areas to leave immediately.
To the north, across the border in Queensland, unprecedented floodwaters south of Brisbane are expected to swamp more than 300 properties in Logan over the next 24 hours, including about 200 homes.
That figure already includes more than 100 flooded homes and businesses in low-lying areas of Logan, as the Albert and Logan Rivers swell to unprecedented levels.
Logan Mayor Luke Smith says flood modelling for low-lying areas along the Albert River is changing by the hour, but so far 211 homes are expected to go under.
“The Albert River is higher than we predicted it to be,” he said. “The river is at an unprecedented state and we are watching now what that’ll mean for our localised flooding.
“We are seeing roads cut off even more and we are seeing heavier inundation than predicted.”
Further north, in the Lockyer Valley ,fears and tragic memories were re-kindled as flood warnings sparked tragic memories of the 2011 flash flood that poured down the Range and claimed the lives of 22 people.
A police spokesman confirmed that no evacuation order had been issued but said people were being warned to prepare to leave by the local disaster management group.
Residents of 71 homes – four at Laidley and another 67 in nearby Forest Hill – were said to be at the greatest risk.
There was no sanctuary either on the Gold Coast, with authorities warning that some pockets could be cut-off entirely. An emergency alert has been issued for the Tallebudgera Valley, which is expected to be isolated as roads are inundated.
“You should prepare for short term isolation,” the Gold Coast council warned in a statement.
At nearby Springbrook, in the Gold Coast hinterland, a massive 380mm had fallen in the 12 hours up to midday yesterday, with as much as 500mm predicted for the next 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the extreme weather forced authorities to suspend the search for a bushwalker missing in the Lamington National Park on the Queensland-NSW border.
A landslide blocked the park’s access road and foiled attempts to look for the man, aged in his 60s, who went hiking on Wednesday but failed to meet up with friends, as agreed.
The water at Beenleigh reached 8m earlier today, and has since been receding. It reached 8.1m in the late 19th Century, so it was close to a record.
Even police were caught out by the speed of the rising waters, with locals telling the ABC that a police car was inundated, and officers were seen carrying equipment out of the station.
– AAP and ABC