Queensland has been hardest-hit, with torrential rain pummeling towns and cities and slowly moving south to engulf the state’s capital, Brisbane, which was bracing Sunday for another night of heavy deluges.
Photographs from the city Sunday night showed the Brisbane River extremely swollen and many streets already severely flooded, with extensive damage to roads, buildings and vehicles caught in the downpour.
About 1,400 homes in Brisbane are considered by authorities to be at risk. Across Queensland, more than 1,000 people have been evacuated, and around 34,000 homes were without power over the weekend. Hundreds of schools will be closed Monday, and officials have asked residents to work from home.
Australia has been buffeted by particularly extreme weather over the past few years, including catastrophic fires, drought and widespread flooding.
According to experts, the country, a giant landmass as large as the continental United States and surrounded by climate-driving oceans, has suffered weather extremes for millenniums, including harsh droughts ending with major floods. But though some of the factors driving those swings are ageless, climate change is increasing the likelihood of severe downpours.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, state premier of Queensland, on Sunday described the latest calamity as a “rain bomb.”
“It’s just coming down in buckets,” she said at a news conference. “It’s not a waterfall; it’s like waves of water just coming down.”
Palaszczuk compared the weather to an “unpredictable cyclone” and said that authorities had not expected the storm system to sit over the state for so long.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia described the situation as “very concerning” and urged residents to stay in their homes.
“It’s going to be a very anxious night in Brisbane as we see the rain continue to fall,” he said Sunday.
Seven people have died since Wednesday, authorities said, with six in Queensland and one in the state of New South Wales.
The latest was a 34-year-old Brisbane man who died trying to escape his submerged car Sunday morning. Others include a volunteer emergency worker who died when her vehicle was swept away while she was on her way to help a family trapped by the floodwaters.
Photographs and videos posted to social media showed houses submerged to their roofs and floodwater touching the tops of traffic lights.
Some have taken to using boats, including kayaks, to get around, and footage of one person going swimming in a flooded cricket ground spread quickly on social media, though authorities have urged residents to stay out of the water.
The town of Gympie, where two deaths occurred, saw its worst flooding since 1893.
Beaches along the Gold Coast, near Brisbane, and the Sunshine Coast, north of the city — which are famous vacation locations — were closed Sunday because of dangerous surf conditions.
The heaviest rain is forecast to move south in the coming days, to New South Wales, where authorities were already urging some residents in riskier areas to evacuate.
The last time Queensland faced similarly catastrophic flooding was in 2011, when 33 people were killed after torrential rain fell over several weeks. That disaster affected over 200,000 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.
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