Australia floods recede to reveal extent of damage

By John Pye

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 13 2011 2:55 p.m. MST

Nearby, Barry and Catherine Bull boiled potatoes and cooked rump steak given to them by a neighbor over a gas-fired camp stove set up outside their house, built of brick and one of few left standing around them. All that remains of the neighbor's wood-framed house is the concrete foundation slab. A car was suspended in the sagging branches of a tree.

They fear the elderly woman across the street is one of the people for whom the soldiers are searching.

"One of the neighbors went to get her, got her out of the house, but she went back for the dog," Catherine Bull said. "That was the last anyone saw of her. If you'd seen the torrent and the way the water was moving, I think you know the rest."

Officials told evacuated Brisbane residents it could be days before it was safe to return to inundated neighborhoods, though no bans were in place preventing people from surveying the damage. Some homes would never be habitable again.

Mayor Campbell Newman said 11,900 homes and 2,500 businesses had been completely inundated, with another 14,700 houses and 2,500 businesses at least partially covered in water.

Police officers were patrolling Brisbane's flooded streets around the clock. Three men were charged with looting after police said they tried to steal dinghies from the swollen river.

The death toll has shocked Australians, no strangers to deadly natural disasters such as the wildfires that killed 173 in a single day two years ago.

Though the full extent of the damage won't be known until the water is gone, even before Brisbane was threatened, Bligh estimated a cleanup and rebuilding to total about $5 billion.

Add to that, the damage to the economy: Queensland's coal industry has virtually shut down, costing millions in deferred exports and sending global prices higher. Vegetables, fruit and sugarcane crops in the rich agricultural region have been wiped out, and prices are due to skyrocket as a result.

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