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Brisbane flood waters swallowing up a city

The chilling sound of sirens filled the air in Australia's third-largest city today as floodwaters which have torn a deadly path across the north-east poured into an empty downtown, swamping neighbourhoods in Brisbane's worst flooding in 100 years.

The surging, muddy water reached the tops of traffic lights in some parts of Brisbane, and the city's mayor said at least 20,000 homes were in danger of being inundated.

At least 22 people have died and more than 50 are missing elsewhere in north-eastern Queensland since drenching rains that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, inundating an area larger than France and Germany combined.

Brisbane, the state capital with a population of 2 million, is the latest city to face down the waters.

Today, Brisbane residents who had spent two days preparing, took cover on higher ground while others scrambled to move their prized possessions to the top floors of their homes. Some stacked furniture on their roof.

The Brisbane River is expected to reach its peak tomorrow, Mayor Campbell Newman said. The figures were constantly being revised as the threat became clearer - and it was getting consistently worse.

Australia's prolonged crisis escalated when a violent storm sent a 26ft (8m), fast-moving torrent - described as an "inland instant tsunami" - crashing through the city of Toowoomba and smaller towns to the west of Brisbane on Monday. Twelve people were killed in that flash flood, and 51 remain missing.



"This is a truly dire set of circumstances," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

The flooding has transfixed Australia and is shaping up to become the nation's most expensive disaster, with an estimated price tag of 5 billion dollars (£3.2 billion).

The relentless waters have shut down Queensland state's crucial coal industry and ruined crops across vast swaths of farmland.

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