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Eyewitness: Brisbane praying our dam will hold

By Paddy Quinn

The rain has started up again. I was just on the phone to my family in Central Queensland, excitedly telling them the rain had stopped and I could see blue sky at last.

That changed about five minutes after I got off the phone.

It’s only a few short showers but with the land so waterlogged any rain that falls now just adds to the flooding devastation that has so far claimed 10 lives and has left 90 people missing.

When I left Belfast for Brisbane after 10 years in 2006, I returned to a country deep in the grip of drought.

The giant dam called Wivenhoe — built to protect Brisbane and neighbouring towns devastated by the record 1974 floods — was back then sitting at around 18% capacity.

Now it's at around 170% and there is talk it could hit 200% as more |and more floodwaters fall into its massive catchment area.

A nervous population is keeping a close eye on the dam which is being put to the ultimate test. It is this dam that stands between what we have now and unimaginable catastrophe.

I have had a string of phone calls from relatives and friends in Ireland. An uncle in Newcastle, Co Down, ringing to see if I escaped the floodwaters — another from the Mournes checking all was well.

It is ironic. A few weeks ago I was ringing and emailing people over there to see how they were holding up with the big freeze and water crisis. It turned out we were soon to get our own water crisis. Not from ancient and rusting pipes bursting because of the cold, but from rains of Biblical proportions.

I am lucky. My house is about 10km north-west from Brisbane which is where all eyes are focused, waiting for the predicted record river peak to hit.

Many buildings in the city centre and houses in neighbouring suburbs have been evacuated and the power to many areas is expected |to be cut off today. It resembles a ghost town.

Tens of thousands of homes and properties are set to be hit. Nobody really knows how many. Some say 40,000. Others say many more. It's a waiting game.

It's hard to get your head around the situation. They are talking |about areas of flooding you could comfortably fit several European countries into.

Sitting on the Great Dividing Range 127km west of the state's capital, at an altitude of nearly seven hundred metres above sea-level, it was shocking to see video footage of what can only be described as an inland tsunami devastate Toowoomba, Australia's largest inland regional city. The experts say the big test will come today and everyone has their fingers crossed.

However, there is now talk of a possible cyclone forming above Western Australia...

Patrick Quinn is a journalist living in Brisbane who spent nearly a decade working for The Belfast Telegraph

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