Tag Archives: flood

Two Plus Two Equals Five – A 2nd look at disaster death tolls

Two Plus Two Equals Five – By Philip Walker | Foreign Policy.

The death toll and level of destruction immediately following a disaster are always difficult to determine, but over time a consensus usually emerges between governments and aid organizations. But, as David Rieff points out, “Sadly, over the course of the past few decades, exaggeration seems to have become the rule in the world of humanitarian relief.… These days, only the most extreme, most apocalyptic situations are likely to move donors in the rich world.” And with donor fatigue an ever-present possibility, it is no surprise then that later studies that contradict the original, inflated estimates are criticized — or worse, ignored — for seemingly undermining the humanitarian cause.

Arriving at these estimates is no easy endeavor, as government agencies and relief organization are rarely able to survey entire populations. Instead, emergency management experts rely on sound statistical and epidemiological techniques. But debating and questioning the numbers behind man-made and natural disasters is not just an academic exercise: the implications are huge. For example, relief agencies were restricted from operating in Darfur, partly because of Sudan’s anger that the U.S.-based Save Darfur Coalition had estimated that 400,000 people were killed in the region. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council used the International Rescue Committee’s death toll of 5.4 million in the Congo to put together its largest peacekeeping operation ever. Similarly, government aid pledges increase or decrease depending upon the extent of the disaster. Numbers do matter, and much depends upon their validity and credibility. What follows is a look at some recent disasters where the numbers just don’t match up.

Above, a view of some of the destruction in Bandar Aceh, Indonesia, a week after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 227,898 people died and about 1.7 million people were displaced in 14 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa. Indonesia, the hardest hit country by the disaster, initially claimed that 220,000 people had died or went missing but ended up revising that number down to around 170,000.

THE DEADLIEST WAR IN THE WORLD

Discrepancy: 5.4 million vs. 900,000 dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2008

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the past 15 years. The war in the DRC officially broke out in 1998 and although the conflict technically ended in 2003 when the transitional government took over, fighting has continued in many of the country’s provinces. The conflict has been dubbed “Africa’s World War,” both due to the magnitude of the devastation and the number of African countries that have, at different times, been involved in the conflict. According to a widely cited 2008 report by the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), “an estimated 5.4 million people have died as a consequence of the war and its lingering effects since 1998,” making it the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II. The organization is one of the largest providers of humanitarian aid in the Congo and is therefore deemed one of the few reliable sources on the conflict.

However, Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said the IRC study did not employ appropriate scientific methodologies and that in reality far less people have died in the Congo. “When we used an alternative measure of the pre-war mortality rate, we found that the IRC estimates of their final three surveys, the figure dropped from 2.83 million to under 900,000,” Mack argued. (He also argued that international relief agencies — such as the International Rescue Committee — are facing a potential conflict of interest because they depend on donations that, in turn, are stimulated by their studies of death tolls. Those studies should be done by independent experts, not by relief agencies that depend on donations, he says.)

Above, the body of a young man lying on the central market avenue of Ninzi, about 25 miles north of Bunia, where on June 20, 2003, Lendu militias launched an attack, killing and mutilating at least 22 civilians.

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 15,000 women raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2006 and 2007

A June 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 400,000 women aged 15-49 were raped in the DRC over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. The shockingly high number is equivalent to four women being raped every five minutes. Perhaps even more alarming, the new number is 26 times higher than the 15,000 rapes that the United Nations reported during the same period.

Maria Eriksson Baaz, a Swedish academic from the University of Gothenburg, has called the study into question by arguing that it is based on out-of-date and questionable figures. As a long-time researcher on women’s rights in the DRC, Baaz claims that extrapolations made from these figures cannot be backed up scientifically. In a recent interview with the BBC, she said it was difficult to collect reliable data in the Congo and that women sometimes claim to be victims in order to get free health care. “Women who have been raped can receive free medical care while women who have other conflict-related injuries or other problems related to childbirth have to pay,” she said. “In a country like the DRC, with [its] extreme poverty where most people can simply not afford health care, it’s very natural this happens.”

Above, Suzanne Yalaka breastfeeds her baby Barunsan on Dec. 11, 2003, in Kalundja, South Kivu province. Her son is the consequence of her being raped by ten rebels from neighboring Burundi. She was left behind by her husband and her husband’s family.

NORTH KOREAN FAMINE

Discrepancy: 2.4 million vs. 220,000 dead in North Korea between 1995 and 1998

Due to the regime’s secretive nature, reliable statistics on the 1990s famine in North Korea are hard to come by. Yet, surprisingly, on May 15, 2001, at a UNICEF conference in Beijing, Choe Su-hon, one of Pyongyang’s nine deputy foreign ministers at the time, stated that between 1995 and 1998, 220,000 North Koreans died in the famine. Compared with outside estimates, these figures were on the low end — presumably because it was in the regime’s interest to minimize the death toll.

A 1998 report by U.S. congressional staffers, who had visited the country, found that from 1995 to 1998 between 900,000 and 2.4 million people had died as a result of food shortages. It noted that other estimates by exile groups were substantially higher but that these numbers were problematic because they were often based on interactions with refugees from the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, which was disproportionately affected by the famine.

Above, North Koreans rebuilding a dike in Mundok county, South Pyongan province, in September 1997, following an August tidal wave after typhoon Winnie. The rebuilding effort was part of an emergency food-for-work project organized by the World Food Program. According to a former North Korean government official, during the famine — from 1993 to 1999 — life expectancy fell from 73.2 to 66.8 and infant mortality almost doubled from 27 to 48 per 1,000 people.

GENOCIDE IN DARFUR

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 60,000 dead in Darfur between 2003 and 2005

In 2006, three years after the conflict in Darfur began, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir publically criticized the United Nations for exaggerating the extent of the fighting in Darfur. “The figure of 200,000 dead is false and the number of dead is not even 9,000,” he proclaimed. At the same time, outside groups like the Save Darfur Coalition and various governments, including the United States, were having a difficult time producing concrete numbers as well. Their only consensus was that the real death toll was exponentially higher than those numbers provided by Bashir.

In 2005, a year after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a U.S. congressional committee that the ethnic violence in Darfur amounted to “genocide,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick estimated the death toll between 60,000 and 160,000. Zoellick was widely criticized for understating the numbers. The World Health Organization estimated that 70,000 people had died over a seven-month period alone. At the same time, researchers for the Coalition for International Justice contended that 396,563 people had died in Darfur. Today, the Sudanese authorities claim that since the conflict began in 2003, 10,000 people have died, while the U.N. estimates that over 300,000 have been killed and another 2.7 million have been displaced.

Above, an armed Sudanese rebel arrives on Sept. 7, 2004, at the abandoned village of Chero Kasi less than an hour after Janjaweed militiamen set it ablaze in the violence-plagued Darfur region.

CYCLONE NARGIS 

Discrepancy: 138,000 vs. unknown death toll in Burma in 2008

Tropical cyclone Nargis made landfall in southern Burma on May 2, 2008, leaving a trail of death and destruction before petering out the next day. It devastated much of the fertile Irrawaddy delta and Yangon, the nation’s main city. Nargis brought about the worst natural disaster in the country’s history — with a death toll that may have exceeded 138,000, according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology. But, with a vast number of people still unaccounted for three years later, the death toll might even be higher. The Burmese authorities allegedly stopped counting for fear of political fallout.

It’s more common for countries hit by a devastating disaster to share their plight with the world and plead for a robust relief effort, but in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis the Burmese military regime sought to maintain control over news of the disaster — restricting access to journalists and censoring the release of information and images. Moreover, the United Nations and other relief agencies were initially banned from setting up operations. At the time, with over 700,000 homes blown away, the U.N. and the Red Cross estimated that over 2.5 million people were in desperate need of aid.

Above, school teacher Hlaing Thein stands on the wreckage of a school destroyed by cyclone Nargis in Mawin village in the Irrawaddy delta region on June 9, 2008.

 

Two Plus Two Equals Five

What numbers can we trust? A second look at the death toll from some of the world’s worst disasters.

BY PHILIP WALKER | AUGUST 17, 2011

EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI

Discrepancy: 318,000 vs. 46,000-85,000 dead in Haiti in 2010

The devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, killed over 318,000 people and left over 1.5 million people homeless, according to the Haitian government. International relief organizations generally estimate anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000 casualties.

However, a recently leaked report compiled for USAID by a private consulting firm claims that the death toll is likely between 46,000 and 85,000, and that roughly 900,000 people were displaced by the earthquake. The report has not yet been published, but its alleged findings have already been disputed by both Haitian authorities and the United Nations. Even the U.S. State Department, for now, is reluctant to endorse it, saying “internal inconsistencies” in some of the statistical analysis are currently being investigated prior to publication.

PAKISTAN FLOODS

Discrepancy: Large numbers affected vs. small death toll in Pakistan in 2010

A young girl washes the mud from her toy at a water pump in the middle of collapsed buildings at a refugee camp near Nowshera in northwest Pakistan on Sept. 23, 2010. Figures provided by the United Nations and Pakistan’s government estimate that 20 million people were affected by the 2010 summer floods — the worst in the country’s history. Almost 2,000 people died, 3,000 were injured, 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed, and over 12 million people were left in need of emergency food aid, according to Pakistan’s National and Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Flood waters wiped out entire villages and vast stretches of farmland affecting an area roughly the size of England. After surveying 15 key sectors across the country, in Oct. 2010, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank announced an estimated damage of $9.7 billion — an amount more than twice that of Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake which killed approximately 86,000 people. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized the destruction as more dire than that caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake combined. “In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he stated.

David Rieff warns that, “By continually upping the rhetorical ante, relief agencies, whatever their intentions, are sowing the seeds of future cynicism, raising the bar of compassion to the point where any disaster in which the death toll cannot be counted in the hundreds of thousands, that cannot be described as the worst since World War II or as being of biblical proportions, is almost certainly condemned to seem not all that bad by comparison.” This was the case in Pakistan where the number affected by the flooding was gigantic but the death toll was relatively low — especially compared to the Haiti earthquake a few months earlier. As a result, the United Nations and other aid organizations were unable to raise large sums for the relief effort compared to previous disasters. “Right now, our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we’ve been receiving, even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we’ve seen in decades, ” said Louis-George Arsenault, director of emergency operations for UNICEF, in an interview with the BBC in Aug. 2010.

As David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross, discerningly put it, “Fortunately, the death toll [in Pakistan] is low compared to the tsunami and the quake in Haiti. … The irony is, our assistance is focused on the living — and the number of those in need is far greater than in Haiti.”

 

Flooding in the Missouri Basin

Flooding in the Missouri Basin : Natural Hazards.

Flooding in the Missouri Basin

acquired August 14, 2011 download large image (5 MB, JPEG)
Flooding in the Missouri Basin

acquired August 11, 2010 download large image (6 MB, JPEG)

In mid-August 2011, long stretches of the Missouri River remained flooded, continuing a situation that began in early June. Water sat on floodplains as far north as Sioux City, Iowa, and as far south as Glasgow, Missouri. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the top image on August 14, 2011. For comparison, the bottom image shows the same region a year earlier, on August 11, 2010.

Both images use a combination of visible and infrared light to increase contrast between water and land. Water is navy blue. Depending on land cover, land appears green or brown. Clouds are nearly white or pale blue-green and cast shadows.

In 2011, the Missouri River is substantially swollen all along the Nebraska border, and in parts of Missouri and Kansas. Water spans the distance between Nebraska City and Hamburg, Iowa (shown in more detail in a high resolution image).

On August 15, 2011, the Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service (AHPS) of the U.S. National Weather Service reported minor flooding of the Missouri River at Sioux City, Iowa; Nebraska City; and multiple communities along the river in the state of Missouri. The AHPS reported moderate flooding in or near the Nebraska communities of Decatur, Blair, Omaha, Plattsmouth, Brownville, and Rulo. The AHPS also reported moderate flooding in St. Joseph and Glasgow, Missouri; and in Atchison, Kansas.

Although the Missouri experienced much higher water levels in 2011 than in 2010, water was not universally higher that summer. August 2011 actually saw lower water levels along the Des Moines and South Skunk Rivers in Iowa compared to the previous year.

  1. References

  2. National Weather Service. Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service. Accessed August 15, 2011.

NASA images courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott.

Instrument: 
Aqua – MODIS

Puerto Rico braces for Tropical Storm Irene

Puerto Rico braces for Tropical Storm Irene | Reuters.

Tropical Storm Irene barreled across the Caribbean toward Puerto Rico on Sunday on a course that could take it to Florida.

Irene, the ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to pass over Puerto Rico overnight and could strengthen into a hurricane as it approached the Dominican Republic on Monday, forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It would be the first hurricane of the busy — but so far not destructive — 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

At 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), Irene had top winds of 50 miles per hour and was near the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix, about 120 miles east-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Irene was a large storm and moving west-northwest.

“Strengthening is forecast and Irene is expected to be near hurricane intensity on Monday. Weakening is likely later on Monday as the center moves near or over the Dominican Republic,” the Hurricane Center forecasters said.

The storm pelted the Leeward Islands with heavy rain and squalls as it crossed from the Atlantic Ocean into the northeastern Caribbean Sea on Sunday.

Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the Virgin Islands, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas.

Puerto Rico lifted a ban on Sunday morning shopping, allowing stores to open so residents could stock up on canned food, bottled water and other necessities. Prices were frozen and alcohol sales were halted until after the storm passes.

Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock said schools and government offices would be closed on Monday in the U.S. territory, and urged residents to finish their preparations then stay inside their homes.

“You have to think about protecting life,” McClintock said at a news conference.

Governor Luis Fortuno flew back to Puerto Rico after taking over the chairmanship of the Southern Governors Association on Sunday at the group’s convention in North Carolina.

Ferry service to the islands of Vieques and Culebra was halted and several inter-Caribbean flights from San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin Airport were canceled.

WATCHING IRENE’S PATH

In the Dominican Republic, authorities warned of abnormal waves up to 15 feet high. Weeks of heavy rainfall have already caused deadly flooding in the Dominican Republic and authorities said they may issue evacuation orders for vulnerable areas on Monday.

Residents of Cuba, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and the southeastern United States were urged to monitor Irene’s progress as the storm headed their way.

Computer forecast models showed Irene moving northwest over the Dominican Republic, Haiti and possibly eastern Cuba and then heading toward the Florida peninsula.

Depending on its eventual path and possible turns, Irene might still pose a threat to U.S. oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico, but forecasters say it is too early to predict with certitude.

An early northward turn would bring it near the Georgia-South Carolina coast late in the week but a later turn could take it over western Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Harvey hit Belize in Central America on Saturday and weakened to a tropical depression as it moved inland. It crossed into Mexico’s Bay of Campeche on Sunday and forecasters said it could briefly strengthen back into a tropical storm before hitting the southern coast of Mexico.

Mudslides and flooding could affect agricultural output in Central America, but this year’s coffee and sugar harvests are largely complete.

(Reporting by Reuters in San Juan, with additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Jane Sutton in Miami and Manuel Jimenez in Santo Domingo; editing by Bill Trott)

Floods along the Yangtze River

Floods along the Yangtze River : Natural Hazards.

Floods along the Yangtze River

acquired June 27, 2011 download large image (6 MB, JPEG)
Floods along the Yangtze River

acquired May 28, 2011 download large image (5 MB, JPEG)

Water levels remained high in Dongting and Poyang Lakes in southeastern China on June 27, 2011. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite captured the top image the same day. For comparison, the bottom image shows the area on May 28, 2011.

These false-color images use a combination of visible and infrared light to increase contrast between water and land. Water varies in color from medium blue to navy. Depending on land cover, areas that are not under water range from green to brown. Clouds are pale blue-green or nearly white.

In late May, Poyang Lake is an assortment of small, isolated water bodies. One month later, the water bodies have merged into a swollen lake. Meanwhile, Dongting Lake has multiplied in area.

The recent floods followed months of devastating drought, China Daily reported. Prior to the torrential rains, 3.5 million people endured water shortages. Although the rain brought much-needed moisture, it also brought deadly floods and landslides. As of June 28, nearly 100 people had died and about 27,000 homes had been destroyed.

  1. References

  2. Qingfeng, Z., Howell Alipalo, M. (2011, June 28). How to fight natural disasters. China Daily. Accessed June 28, 2011.

NASA images courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott.

Instrument: 
Terra – MODIS

Tropical Storm Arlene kills 17 in Mexico

Tropical Storm Arlene kills 17 in Mexico – CNN.com.

 

Chickens walk on the roof of a house destroyed by a mudslide in Xalapa, Mexico, on Friday.
Chickens walk on the roof of a house destroyed by a mudslide in Xalapa, Mexico, on Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 12-year-old electrocuted is youngest victim
  • Death toll expected to rise as other incidents are investigated
  • Arlene is the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season

(CNN) — At least 17 people throughout Mexico have died and thousands of others have been affected since Thursday as a result of Tropical Storm Arlene, a Mexican official said Monday.

The youngest victim was 12-year-old Uriel Escobar, who was electrocuted Friday after touching a downed power line, said Juan Carlos Orantes, the director of emergencies with the country’s civil protection agency.

“He died in the hospital after being transported. He was accompanied by his grandfather when he died,” Orantes said.

The death toll was expected to rise as investigators worked to confirm other incidents in the state of Oaxaca, Orantes said.

The victims ranged in age from 12 to 65 years old.

“We are expecting still more intense storms; however, we’ve had a brief stoppage for now,” Orantes said.

In Veracruz, Alfredo Garcia, 21, was found dead in his car after it was overcome by floodwaters. In the same state, Damien Islas died while trying to save a group of people from a collapsing house, Orantes said.

The dead include five from Hidalgo, two from the state of Tamaulipas, another two in Guerrero, three more in Veracruz and three in San Luis Potosi.

Tropical Storm Arlene is the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Flood disrupts Minot water supply

Flood disrupts Minot water supply – CNN.com.

Gordon Valgren, right, cleans debris from his flood-damaged home Monday in Minot, North Dakota.

Gordon Valgren, right, cleans debris from his flood-damaged home Monday in Minot, North Dakota.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Minot, North Dakota, residents are under orders to conserve water
  • Floodwaters apparently broke a water main on Monday
  • Flooding also is affecting Burlington, North Dakota

Is severe weather happening where you are? Share your story.

(CNN) — Residents of flooded Minot, North Dakota, remained under orders to limit their water use Tuesday, a day after rushing floodwaters apparently broke a main water line, a city spokesman said.

Utility crews were able to wade to the site of the break and divert the water flow, but it would likely be Tuesday night or Wednesday before they could install a new line to restore normal flow, said Dean Lenertz, a spokesman for the city.

About a third of Minot’s population of nearly 36,000 has been evacuated due to record flooding from the Souris River, which bisects the city.

The main north-south route through the city, the Broadway Bridge, has been closed to traffic other than emergency vehicles and those involved in the flood fight, leading to traffic jams, Lenertz said.

“It’s a two- to three-hour commute in the mornings and evenings to get from one area to another,” he said.

Floodwaters crest, fears remain
Flooding called heartbreaking

The Souris crested over the weekend at nearly 13 feet over flood stage. It has since fallen about a foot but remains more than 2½ feet above the previous record flood from 1881, according to the National Weather Service.

Lenertz said it will likely be at least a week, perhaps two, before residents of the estimated 4,000 homes flooded in the city will be able to return home and assess the damage.

Residents of Burlington, North Dakota, are also being affected by flooding, but not from the Souris. There, the water being released from Garrison Reservoir into Missouri River is causing the problems.

About 4,000 people have been forced out of about 800 homes there, according to iReporter Mark Armstrong, who is a Burleigh County commissioner.

Flooding problems have been ongoing there for five weeks, he said.

Flooded River Taking Aim At Mississippi Delta

Flooded River Taking Aim At Mississippi Delta : NPR.

Family members of Hazel Moxley, not pictured, make sandbags to fortify her home in preparation of impending flooding from the likely diversion of Mississippi River floodwaters into the Atchafalaya Basin, in Stephensville, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011.

Associated PressFamily members of Hazel Moxley, not pictured, make sandbags to fortify her home in preparation of impending flooding from the likely diversion of Mississippi River floodwaters into the Atchafalaya Basin, in Stephensville, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011.

William Jefferson rides about around his Vicksburg, Miss. neighborhood Tuesday, May 10, 2011. Jefferson's house was under at least 3 feet water, as were dozens of other homes in the neighborhood.

Associated PressWilliam Jefferson rides about around his Vicksburg, Miss. neighborhood Tuesday, May 10, 2011. Jefferson’s house was under at least 3 feet water, as were dozens of other homes in the neighborhood.

Inmates help Luke Barras, right, load sand bags into his truck in Butte LaRose, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in advance of possible flooding brought on by the planned opening of the Morganza Spillway. The Army Corps of Engineers received permission to open the Old River Control Structure north of Baton Rouge, which will divert water from the Mississippi River to the spillway in order to alleviat...

Associated PressInmates help Luke Barras, right, load sand bags into his truck in Butte LaRose, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in advance of possible flooding brought on by the planned opening of the Morganza Spillway. The Army Corps of Engineers received permission to open the Old River Control Structure north of Baton Rouge, which will divert water from the Mississippi River to the spillway in order to alleviate pressure on river levees.

The flooded home of William Jefferson is shown Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Vicksburg, Miss. Jefferson said the water started coming into his house a few days ago. Over the past week or so in the Delta, floodwaters along the rain-swollen river and its backed-up tributaries have already washed away crops, forced many people to flee to higher ground and closed some of the dockside casinos that are v...

Associated PressThe flooded home of William Jefferson is shown Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Vicksburg, Miss. Jefferson said the water started coming into his house a few days ago. Over the past week or so in the Delta, floodwaters along the rain-swollen river and its backed-up tributaries have already washed away crops, forced many people to flee to higher ground and closed some of the dockside casinos that are vital to the state’s economy. But the worst is yet to come, with the crest expected to roll through the Delta over the next few days.

Inmates fill sand bags for residents in Butte LaRose, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in advance of possible flooding brought on by the planned opening of the Morganza Spillway. The Army Corps of Engineers received permission to open the Old River Control Structure north of Baton Rouge, which will divert water from the Mississippi River to the spillway in order to alleviate pressure on river levees.

Associated PressInmates fill sand bags for residents in Butte LaRose, La., Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in advance of possible flooding brought on by the planned opening of the Morganza Spillway. The Army Corps of Engineers received permission to open the Old River Control Structure north of Baton Rouge, which will divert water from the Mississippi River to the spillway in order to alleviate pressure on river levees.

A flooded residential area in Memphis, Tenn is seen in this aerial photograph made with a fisheye lens Tuesday, May 10, 2011. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressA flooded residential area in Memphis, Tenn is seen in this aerial photograph made with a fisheye lens Tuesday, May 10, 2011. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

The Pyramid Arena sits protected by a flood wall from the swollen Mississippi River Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressThe Pyramid Arena sits protected by a flood wall from the swollen Mississippi River Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Downtown buildings are seen in the distance as Interstate 40 passes over the swollen Mississippi River Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressDowntown buildings are seen in the distance as Interstate 40 passes over the swollen Mississippi River Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

A flooded residential area is seen in this aerial photograph Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressA flooded residential area is seen in this aerial photograph Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Homes on Mud Island sit in floodwater Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressHomes on Mud Island sit in floodwater Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Ross Nesbit, 77, and former mayor of  Satartia, Miss., south of Yazoo City, points out how much the water from the Yazoo River has risen near his home Monday, May 9, 2011. Nesbit, who is in the process of emptying out his home is prepared for it to go underwater as the river now sits both in his garden and across the street from his house. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and i...

Associated PressRoss Nesbit, 77, and former mayor of Satartia, Miss., south of Yazoo City, points out how much the water from the Yazoo River has risen near his home Monday, May 9, 2011. Nesbit, who is in the process of emptying out his home is prepared for it to go underwater as the river now sits both in his garden and across the street from his house. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

One resident of  Satartia, Miss., has encircled his home with barriers designed to keep river debris from damaging his house frame Monday, May 9, 2011. The backflow of flood waters from the Mississippi River now mix with those of the Yazoo River to threaten residents of this small rural community.

Associated PressOne resident of Satartia, Miss., has encircled his home with barriers designed to keep river debris from damaging his house frame Monday, May 9, 2011. The backflow of flood waters from the Mississippi River now mix with those of the Yazoo River to threaten residents of this small rural community.

One resident of  Satartia, Miss., has encircled his home with barriers designed to keep river debris from damaging his house frame Monday, May 9, 2011. The backflow of flood waters from the Mississippi River now mix with those of the Yazoo River to threaten residents of this small rural community.

Associated PressOne resident of Satartia, Miss., has encircled his home with barriers designed to keep river debris from damaging his house frame Monday, May 9, 2011. The backflow of flood waters from the Mississippi River now mix with those of the Yazoo River to threaten residents of this small rural community.

Farm lands north of Yazoo City that lie near the Yazoo River begin to go under water Monday, May 9, 2011. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

Associated PressFarm lands north of Yazoo City that lie near the Yazoo River begin to go under water Monday, May 9, 2011. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

A scoreboard for an athletic field is seen surrounded by floodwater Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressA scoreboard for an athletic field is seen surrounded by floodwater Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

A flooded residential area is seen in this aerial photograph Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressA flooded residential area is seen in this aerial photograph Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

A flooded residential area is seen in this aerial photograph Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Associated PressA flooded residential area is seen in this aerial photograph Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. The Mississippi River crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet on Tuesday, falling short of its all-time record but still soaking low-lying areas with enough water to require a massive cleanup.

Workers use cranes to remove some of the Bonnet Carre Spillway's wooden barriers, which serve as a dam against the high water in Norco, La., Monday, May 9, 2011 in anticipation of rising floodwater. The spillway, which the Corps built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in response to the great flood of 1927, last opened during the spring 2008. Monday marked the 10th time it has been opened...

Associated PressWorkers use cranes to remove some of the Bonnet Carre Spillway’s wooden barriers, which serve as a dam against the high water in Norco, La., Monday, May 9, 2011 in anticipation of rising floodwater. The spillway, which the Corps built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in response to the great flood of 1927, last opened during the spring 2008. Monday marked the 10th time it has been opened since the structure was completed in 1931. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.

Ross Nesbit, 77, and former mayor of Satartia, Miss., south of Yazoo City, takes a phone call Monday, May 9, 2011 in his emptied out home. Nesbit hopes to remove the remainder of his possessions before the rising waters that  now lie across the street from his home go underwater. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as m...

Associated PressRoss Nesbit, 77, and former mayor of Satartia, Miss., south of Yazoo City, takes a phone call Monday, May 9, 2011 in his emptied out home. Nesbit hopes to remove the remainder of his possessions before the rising waters that now lie across the street from his home go underwater. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

A resident on a bulldozer raises a levee in Satartia, Miss., south of Yazoo City,  May 9, 2011, as water laps at the homes in this rural community. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

Associated PressA resident on a bulldozer raises a levee in Satartia, Miss., south of Yazoo City, May 9, 2011, as water laps at the homes in this rural community. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

Flood waters claim an abandoned bus in Satartia, Miss., Monday, May 9, 2011. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

Associated PressFlood waters claim an abandoned bus in Satartia, Miss., Monday, May 9, 2011. Residents and farmers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries race to secure their homes and businesses as much as possible from what is expected to be historic flooding.

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VICKSBURG, Miss. May 11, 2011, 09:06 am ET

William Jefferson paddles slowly down his street in a small boat, past his house and around his church, both flooded from the bulging Mississippi River that has rolled into the Delta.

“Half my life is still in there,” he said, pointing to the small white house swamped by several feet of water. “I hate to see it when I go back in.”

The river was taking aim at one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country after cresting Tuesday at Memphis, Tenn., just inches short of the record set in 1937. Some low-lying Memphis neighborhoods were inundated, but the city’s high levees protected much of the rest of Memphis.

Downstream in Louisiana, inmates were filling sandbags to protect property in Cajun swamp communities that could be flooded if engineers open a spillway to protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge area. Fear was high among residents there.

Jefferson’s Vicksburg neighborhood has been one of the hardest hit in the historic city that was the site of a pivotal Civil War battle. Jefferson refuses to leave, so he spends his days in the sweltering sun watching the water rise and sleeping in a camper at an intersection that’s likely to flood soon, too.

“If you don’t stay with your stuff, you won’t have it,” he said. “This is what I do every day. Just watch the water.”

Over the past week or so in the Delta, floodwaters along the rain-swollen river and its backed-up tributaries have already washed away crops, forced many to seek higher ground and closed some of the dockside casinos that are vital to the state’s economy.

The state gambling industry is taking a hit: All 19 casinos along the river will be shut down by the end of the week, costing governments $12 million to $13 million in taxes per month, authorities said. That will put some 13,000 employees temporarily out of work.

But the worst is yet to come, with the crest expected over the next few days. The damage in Memphis was estimated at more than $320 million as the serious flooding began, and an official tally won’t be available until the waters recede.

To the south, there were no early figures on the devastation, but with hundreds of homes already damaged, “we’re going to have a lot more when the water gets to where it’s never been before,” said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi emergency management agency.

Across the region, federal officials anxiously checked and reinforced the levees, some of which could be put to their sternest test ever.

In northwestern Mississippi, crews have been using dirt and sand to make a levee higher at the Bolivar-Coahoma county line in the north Delta, said Charlie Tindall, attorney for the Mississippi Levee Board.

About 10 miles north of Vicksburg, contractors lined one side of what is known as a backwater levee with big sheets of plastic to keep it from eroding if floodwaters flow over it as feared — something that has never happened to the levee since it was built in the 1970s.

In Vicksburg, the river was projected to peak Saturday just above the record set during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927.

Jimmy Mitchell, 46, and his wife and two children have been living in a loaned camper for more than week at a civic arena in Tunica.

“There’s no sewage hookup. You go in a barn to take a shower,” said Mitchell, who is from the small community of Cutoff. “We have no time frame on how long we can stay.”

As Mitchell and friends sat outside chatting in the breeze, children rode bikes nearby.

“Cutoff is a community where everybody lives from paycheck to paycheck. It’s also a community where everybody sticks together,” Mitchell said.

Widespread flooding was expected along the Yazoo River, a tributary that is backed up because of the bloated Mississippi. Rolling Fork, home of the bluesman Muddy Waters, was also in danger of getting inundated.

Farmers built homemade levees to protect their corn, cotton, wheat and soybean crops, but many believed the crops would be lost entirely.

Vicksburg National Military Park, where thousands of Civil War soldiers who died in an 1863 battle are buried, was expected to remain dry. The park is the site where Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s troops entrapped a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, forcing its surrender. The victory effectively split the Confederacy in half.

Vicksburg was forecast to see its highest river level ever, slightly above the 56.2-feet mark set in 1927. Farther south in Natchez, forecasters said the 1937 record could be shattered by 4 feet on Saturday.

The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet, just short of its all-time record of 48.7.

Some homes had polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, while others were completely submerged. Snakes and other creatures slithered in the foul water, and officials warned of bacteria. Nearly 500 people in Memphis were in shelters.

The passing of the crest was of little consolation for many.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve already lost everything,” said Rocio Rodriguez, 24, who has been at a shelter for 12 days with her husband and two young children since their trailer park flooded.

On the downtown Memphis riverfront, people came out to gawk at the river. High-water marks were visible on concrete posts, indicating that the level was dropping slowly.

“It could have been a lot worse. Levees could have broke,” said Memphis resident Janice Harbin, 32. “I’m very fortunate to stand out here and see it — and not be a victim of the flood.”

In Louisiana, jail inmates filled sandbags to protect property in St. Martin Parish, which could be flooded if authorities open a second floodway to take pressure off levees that protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

On Monday, the corps began opening the Bonnet Carre spillway near New Orleans. The second floodway, Morganza, is upriver from Baton Rouge and could be opened this weekend.

The floodway pours into the Atchafalaya River, and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Communities such as Morgan City on its southern end were sandbagging against the expected floodwaters, and hoping for the best.

“Everybody is just scared. They don’t know what to do,” said St. Martin Deputy Sheriff Ginny Higgins, who was overseeing prisoners who stuffed sandbags in stifling heat and humidity while clad in black and white striped jumpsuits.

Sharonda Buck, an unemployed 18-year-old mother, lives in a house with 12 relatives in Vicksburg. The water has been creeping into their yard and the power company said electricity will be cut off Wednesday morning. They spent Tuesday walking the railroad tracks through their neighborhood, kids throwing rocks in flooded yards.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re trying to find somewhere to stay, that’s all I know,” she said.

———

Mohr reported from Vicksburg, Miss. Associated Press writers Alan Sayre in New Orleans; Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tenn., and Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report. AP video journalist Jason Bronis contributed from Memphis.

Record flooding still in forecast after levee breach

Record flooding still in forecast after levee breach – CNN.com.

Read more about this story from CNN affiliate KPLR. Are you in the area? Share your photos and videos with CNN, but be safe.

(CNN) — The intentional breach of a levee on the Mississippi River is helping to ease unprecedented flood pressure on other areas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

The Ohio River level had dropped about 1.7 feet at Cairo, Illinois, since Monday afternoon, before the blast, but that is expected to level off Wednesday.

The breach, created when engineers detonated explosives late Monday night at Birds Point, Missouri, is sending 396,000 cubic feet of water per second onto 200 square miles of fertile Missouri farmland.

The water is coursing across a floodway that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon described as “literally the most productive part of our continent.”

Two states grapple with rising floodwaters

Farmer Bryan Feezor said the sight makes you “sick to your stomach” as he surveyed his submerged fields.

Army Corps blasts levee to save town
Army Corps opts to blow up levee
Flooded lake overflows levee

“Farming is all I ever have done … and it’s under water,” he told CNN affiliate KPLR. “I really don’t know (what I’m going to do).”

A second levee blast was conducted Tuesday afternoon at New Madrid, Missouri, and a third is planned Wednesday near Hickman, Kentucky. The second and third blasts, downstream of Birds Point, will allow floodwater to return to the Mississippi River.

While the plan appeared to be working — the level of the Ohio River fell where it joins the Mississippi — record crests and relentless pressure from millions of gallons of water still threatened communities throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.

Vicksburg, Mississippi, could see water levels rise 4 feet by Sunday. Authorities told residents of Caruthersville, Missouri, that sandbags may not be enough to control the water.

Corina Jolley, of Sikeston, Missouri, said she grew up in Dorena, Missouri, which she said was being inundated by the breach on the Mississippi River.

A tombstone rests above the remains of her father and uncle, but “I’m sure we’ll never see it again,” said Jolley, who said residents of the rich farmland will be out of luck, as opposed to those in Cairo, for whom the risk has been lessened by the breaches.

“Whoever thought it would be this bad?” she said.

The situation was especially perilous for a 93-year-old woman who was caught in the swollen waters of the Black River near Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where two members of the Missouri National Guard rescued her from a partially submerged car.

“We weren’t there to be heroes,” said Sgt. Tim Bridges. “We were just doing our jobs.” Bridges, along with Spc. Junior Bombard, waded through the rushing, muddy waters to ferry the woman to safety.

This “is the reason why I signed up for the Guard,” said Spc. Junior Bombard.

The town of Cairo remained under a mandatory evacuation despite the intentional breach, while six other communities were under voluntary evacuation notices, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods yet,” she said. “The levees are all very saturated right now and they’re going to continue to have a lot of pressure on them for several days.”

Even with the levee breach, the National Weather Service continues to predict record or near-record flooding in parts of southern Illinois, southwest Indiana, western Kentucky and Tennessee, southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Corps’ Mississippi River Valley Division, made the decision to order the breach. He warned that without punching a hole in the levee, massive flooding would threaten to inundate communities throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the system,” he told reporters Tuesday evening. “The project operated as designed.”

It was a controversial decision. Missouri officials took the Corps to court over the plan, questioning the agency’s authority to intentionally breach the levee. The state argued the floodwater would deposit silt on the estimated 130,000 acres, and years, along with millions of dollars, would be required to fix the damage.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case on Sunday, clearing the way for Walsh to blow the levee.

Some Missouri residents were angered by the decision, saying it would destroy their communities and provide questionable benefit. But others felt the decision was for the best.

“Yeah, we lost … acres of farm land here in Missouri,” said Sikeston, Missouri, resident Patricia Mobely, who recently fled the drought and firestorms of Texas for what she thought would be a more peaceful life in the Midwest. “But how much more would we have lost if we hadn’t done it?”

“The sacrifice that these people are making is for the greater good,” Jim Pogue with the Army Corps of Engineers told KPLR. “Their sacrifices are going to benefit hundreds of thousands of people all through this region. It’s not just Cairo. It’s people all through this part of the country.”

Walsh called the decision to inundate the farmland and about 100 homes “heart-wrenching.”

“I’ve been involved with flooding for 10 years and it takes a long time to recover from something like this,” he said.

******************

Final levee breach completed in plan to stem flooding in central U.S.

May 05, 2011|By the CNN Wire Staff
Missouri officials had tried to stop the plan to breach the Birds Point-New Madrid levee, arguing it would damage farmland.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday breached the third and final portion of a levee on the Mississippi River to help offset catastrophic floods in communities across several states.

The Corps opened the final crevasse in the Birds Point-New Madrid levee, under a plan that blasted holes in the structure with hopes of easing unprecedented flood pressure, said Col. Vernie L. Reichling Jr., commander of the Memphis district.

“It acted as designed,” Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, told reporters about the breaching. “We reduced the gauges at Paducah (Kentucky) 3.1 feet. At Cairo (Illinois), it’s 3.3 feet.”

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The Corps started the plan on Monday. Some who live where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet said it has helped.

The Ohio River level at Cairo, Illinois, has dropped nearly 2 feet since Monday afternoon. Officials said they believe the levels would be up to 3 feet higher now if the levee had not been detonated.

Still, the town of Cairo was under a mandatory evacuation order and six other communities were under voluntary evacuation notices, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The decision to breach the Birds Point-New Madrid levee was controversial. Missouri officials took the Corps to court over the plan, questioning the agency’s authority to intentionally breach the levee. The state argued the floodwater would deposit silt on about 130,000 acres, and it would take years, along with millions of dollars, to fix the damage.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Corps’ Mississippi River Valley Division, made the decision to order the breach. He warned that without punching a hole in the levee, massive flooding would threaten to inundate communities throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case on Sunday, clearing the way for Walsh to blow up part of the levee.

Despite the plan, many areas were inundated as the Mississippi River spilled out across huge swaths of farmland, creating massive flooding from Minnesota to Louisiana.

The water was coursing across an area of farmland that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon described as “literally the most productive part of our continent.”

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said the Corps’ decision was a tough one for them to make.

“Clearly, this is an epic flood,” she told CNN, adding that the flooding of the farmland is “an economic devastation to that part of my state.”

The sight makes you “sick to your stomach,” said farmer Bryan Feezor as he surveyed his submerged fields.

“Farming is all I ever have done … and it’s under water,” he told CNN affiliate KPLR.

The flooding has been triggered by heavy rains and meteorologists say it’s not expected to fully relent until early June.

More than 20 miles of westbound Interstate 40 in eastern Arkansas was closed due to flooding, state police reported early Thursday.

The closure was between the towns of Hazen and Brinkley, according to Lt. Jackie Clark, who said he expects the eastbound lanes to close later in the day.

Over 90 missing in Australia as floods inundate Brisbane

Over 90 missing in Australia as floods inundate Brisbane | Reuters.

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A car moves through a flooded street in the Brisbane suburb of West End January 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mick Tsikas

BRISBANE, Australia | Tue Jan 11, 2011 6:45pm EST

BRISBANE, Australia (Reuters) – Thousands of residents of Australia’s third-largest city evacuated homes on Wednesday as massive floods threatened to inundate the financial district, sparked panic buying of food and left authorities despairing for more than 90 people missing.

The biggest floods in decades have so far killed 14 people since starting their devastating march across the northern mining state of Queensland last month, crippling the coking coal industry, destroying infrastructure, putting a brake on the economy and sending the local currency to four-week lows.

With a flood surge expected to peak in the Queensland capital of Brisbane, a city of two million, on Thursday, search and rescue crews took advantage of rare sunshine on Wednesday to look for those still missing from tsunami-like flash floods that tore through townships west of the city this week.

“I think we’re all going to be shocked by what they find in these towns that were hit by that tsunami yesterday,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told local television on Wednesday.

The worsening floods are forcing economists to raise estimates of the economic impact, with one central bank board member quoted on Wednesday as saying the disaster could cost as much as 1 percent of economic growth — equal to almost $13 billion, double the previous highest estimate.

The Australian dollar sank to a fresh four-week low of $0.9803 on the comments from Warren McKibbin, an academic and a member of the central bank’s policy making board.

In Brisbane, thousands of homes and businesses were inundated as swirling flood waters rose in and around the riverside city, triggering residents to flee with few possessions to higher ground and evacuation centers.

City Mayor Campbell Newman said the number of homes expected to be hit by flooding had risen to 19,700, affecting up to 45,000 people, with the military now running relief flights with helicopters and C-130 transports.

Dams built to protect communities are at bursting point.

Power company Energex has shut power to some low-lying areas of Brisbane, including parts of the financial district, for fear that live power lines could electrify floodwaters. Up to 100,000 homes in Brisbane and nearby Ipswich were without electricity.

‘TERRIFYING, CHAOS’

Bligh said the Brisbane River, which winds through the city center, should peak at the high tide on Thursday around mid-afternoon, with thousands of properties to be inundated before that time, but she appealed for calm.

“Right across this region, this river is creating chaos, terrifying people and causing damage already,” she said.

Unmoored boats and pontoons with speedboats still attached could be seen adrift on the Brisbane River, which was swirling with flotsam as the sun broke through on Wednesday for what was expected, allowing rescue helicopters into the air.

Showers, though, were forecast to return next week.

Some scenes in the city were surreal with early-morning joggers trying to carry on as normal, despite parts of the their routes being submerged.

Amy Cotterill, a waitress at a central Brisbane cafe, said she was unsure about the fate of the city, with flood levels of around 4.5 meters expected on Wednesday and worse to come.

“They make it sound like it’s going to be bad, cutting power and so on,” she said, adding that so far her home in the Hawthorn area of the city was on dry ground.

Hundreds of people were evacuated overnight from homes at Ipswich, west of Brisbane, with a third of the town expected to go under water as the Bremer River peaks.

Further south, in neighboring New South Wales state, entire communities were evacuated around Grafton and Maclean, as the Clarence River swelled, catching emergency teams by surprise.

In southeast Victoria state, heavy rain caused flash flooding around the town of Horsham, prompting fears a nearby lake could break its banks, while in Western Australia authorities fought bushfires in a summer of extremes.

Thin lines of sandbags surrounded some businesses in downtown Brisbane, with some motorists braving flooded streets.

“There is nothing we can do about it,” said Ricardo Rindu, who runs a Latin Restaurant on Melbourne Street. “I tried ringing the council for sandbags but there was no answer.”

Floodwaters entered the lobby of Brisbane’s Cutting Edge TV production house. A day earlier workers had tried desperately to sandbag the glass-front building full of high-tech equipment.

Some residents wheeled shopping carts and carried bags laden with food as supermarkets ran out of staples such as milk and bread. Food prices are surging around the country as the floods ruin crops in Queensland and sever distribution networks.

Police were starting to close off more streets in the center of Brisbane as some streets were flooded with knee-high water.

SHOCKED PM VISITS FLOODED CITY

Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in the city to inspect the devastation and said she was deeply concerned about the impact of the flood on jobs and livelihoods.

“I have been shocked. I think we’ve all been shocked by the images of that wall of water just wreaking such devastation. The dimensions of it are truly mind-boggling,” Gillard said.

“We will have to work through the long-term economic impacts for Queensland, and of course the huge infrastructure re-building task to come as floodwaters subside.”

(Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in CANBERRA and Balazs Koranyi and Amy Pyett in SYDNEY)

(Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Australia floods: Peak water levels loom for Brisbane

BBC News – Australia floods: Peak water levels loom for Brisbane.

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Nick Bryant: “What we’re seeing is a community coming out in force to salvage what they can”

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The Australian city of Brisbane is preparing for the worst of its devastating floods, with water levels set to peak over the next few hours.

The peak is now expected to reach 5.2m (17ft) at 0400 local time on Thursday (1800GMT Wednesday), down from the 5.4m of the devastating 1974 floods.

But Queensland’s Premier Anna Bligh warned many would wake to scenes they had never seen in their lives.

The death toll in Queensland is 12 so far, with dozens reported missing.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the disaster’s scale “mind-boggling”.

Ms Bligh said: “We are now in the grip of a very serious natural disaster.

At the scene

The owners of shops and cafes in one of the lower-lying communities in Brisbane have been putting sandbags out throughout the day, but the waters have risen above them and are wrecking their properties.

The only way to get around these communities at the moment, as the police are doing, is in metal boats – tinnies, as they’re called locally. We’ve seen a lot of them across Queensland recently.

There are still dozens of people missing, not in Brisbane but further inland. Toowoomba saw such extraordinary scenes on Monday afternoon, when flash flooding ripped through – cars were overturned, just swept through – all the more remarkable because Toowomba doesn’t have a river. That’s why state premier Anna Bligh called it a freak of nature.

Dozens of people are still feared missing – whole families in some instances. The search operation is still ongoing.

“We are now seeing thousands of homes inundated with water up to the roof. Many, many more are expected to see significant water damage.”

She said 20,000 to 30,000 people would be affected in Brisbane.

Although the flood peak could be below the 1974 level, Ms Bligh said: “This is still a major event, the city is much bigger, much more populated and has many parts under flood that didn’t even exist in 1974.

“We are still looking at an event which will cripple parts of our city.”

She added: “Brisbane will go to sleep tonight and wake up to scenes that many of them have never seen anything like in their lives.”

Many supermarkets have been stripped of supplies, while a number of rubbish collections and bus services have halted.

During the day on Wednesday, the central business district escaped serious flooding, with the slightly lower level of water than forecast.

However, boats and pontoons still floated down the roaring Brisbane river, along with massive amounts of debris.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said he had “a sense of horror and awe about the power of the river”.

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“At the moment we are seeing pontoons and people’s boats… sadly in the coming hours we might be seeing bits of people’s houses… and that breaks my heart.”

The central district is still in danger – the flood’s peak early on Thursday will coincide with a high sea tide.

The city’s South Brisbane and West End districts have already been badly hit, the Brisbane Courier Mail reported. In all, more than 50 suburbs and 2,100 roads could be left under water.

More than 100,000 properties have had their power cut as a precaution against flooding of electricity substations.

Much of central Brisbane is a ghost townPlease turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

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A boat swept down the swollen Brisbane river sinks after hitting a bridge

Leisa Bourne of Red Cross Queensland told the BBC the city’s residents had been orderly in preparing their evacuation plans during the day on Wednesday but she expected an influx of people to evacuation centres when the flood hit its peak.

‘Completely unrecognisable’

West of Brisbane in the city of Ipswich, the Bremer river peaked at around 20m on Wednesday.

USEFUL FLOOD INFORMATION

About 1,000 homes were inundated and 7,500 more affected, the Queensland Times reported. More than 1,000 people are in evacuation centres there.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said he expected flood levels to drop within the next 36 hours, allowing the clean-up to begin afterwards.

“If I find anybody looting in our city, they will be used as flood markers,” he warned.

One man found dead in his car in Ipswich has not yet been included in the death toll of 12.

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Ms Bligh said: “There are some parts of Brisbane and Ipswich which are already completely unrecognisable.”

Water levels are expected to stay high in Brisbane until Saturday.

However Ms Bligh vowed the state would get back on its feet swiftly.

“We believe we can recover very quickly. That is our intention,” she said.

Ms Gillard urged Australians to look out for their neighbours.

“If there’s someone in your street you’re worried about, maybe an older Australian that you haven’t seen for a while, maybe give them a knock on the door and make sure they’re okay.”

The worst affected area was the town of Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, where residents described an “instant inland tsunami” of 8m ripping through the streets on Monday.

One good piece of news on Wednesday was that the number of missing in the Lockyer Valley had been revised down from 51 to 43, but there were grave fears for nine.