Brisbane, Australia (AFP) Jan 11, 2011
Panic-buying hit Brisbane Tuesday, as businesses and offices in Australia's third largest city were forced to close as surging floodwaters raced in.
Thousands fled the Queensland state capital, leaving its central business district resembling a ghost town, with 6,500 homes and businesses under threat.
Traffic streamed out of the city and office workers crowded public transport to return to their homes in the suburbs as soon as alerts were issued early Tuesday.
"They closed the whole building down because there had already been flooding and they were expecting far worse to come," said lawyer Paul Betros, whose entire office tower in the heart of the city was evacuated.
"The building is right next to the river and there are a lot of restaurants nearby -- people had been evacuated from them earlier. The water was one to two metres below the boardwalk and rising."
After weeks of torrential downpours which have washed through resource-rich Queensland, causing billions of dollars in damage and claiming at least 20 lives, the state's capital is now bracing for a wall of floodwaters.
"This water is on its way," said Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, adding that the waters were projected to flood 6,500 homes and businesses, and wash into the central business district.
"Today is very significant, tomorrow is bad, and Thursday is going to be devastating for the residents and businesses concerned," he said.
Cafes along the Brisbane River have been evacuated while car parks in the city centre raised their boom gates and advised customers to take their vehicles out as heavy rain pounded the city.
Roads out of the city were packed after businesses closed for the day and sent workers home, with traffic on the Centenary Highway, the major road heading south from the city, bumper to bumper by late afternoon.
Witnesses said that supermarket shelves were raided by people stocking up on food and supplies as they left their offices and either holed up in their homes or attempted to leave the city for higher ground.
Brisbane resident Daniel Sumner said there were scenes of chaos in supermarkets where people bought up bread, milk, batteries, bottled water and candles.
"The whole place was just a madhouse," he told AFP. "There's no bread on the shelves, it was pretty much down to no produce."
Brisbane City Council is distributing free sandbags in some areas and has warned that more than 30 suburbs could be affected by the flooding.
One resident of the suburb of Indooroopilly said he was evacuating with his young family after receiving warnings that his house would be inundated.
"We are 750 metres from the river and 75 metres from Witton Creek, and it is the creek we are mainly worried about," he told AFP.
"However, the latest warnings said the river in our area would peak at 8-9 metres and that's enough to flood our house."
The situation in Brisbane is expected to deteriorate in coming days with heavy rain not expected to abate and authorities forced to release more water from the Wivenhoe Dam -- built after devastating 1974 floods to protect the city and currently at 173 percent capacity.
Around Brisbane, residents of some low-lying areas are being urged to evacuate with residents of Caboolture, about 50 kilometres north of Brisbane, now isolated by floodwaters.
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