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Rains In Australia Send 'Wall Of Water' Through Town

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two weeks of flooding in Australia have covered an area the size of France and Germany combined. And this week, Australia got what it didn't need, more heavy summer rains. It is summer in Australia, of course. Yesterday, a flash flood sent a wall of water through a town, and from the descriptions, we're not sure flash flood quite covers the magnitude of this.

We're going to talk about it with Neale Maynard. He's in Brisbane, Australia. He's an editor of the Courier Mail newspaper, which has been covering this story.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. NEALE MAYNARD (Editor, Courier Mail): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this wall of water. What happened, exactly?

Mr. MAYNARD: There's been very heavy rain in Queensland for weeks now. Yesterday afternoon, a particularly intense cell moved over the city of Towamba, which is a mountain city of about 130,000 people. They had very, very heavy rain, something like four or five inches on top of all the other rain they'd had.

Towamba is a city 2,000 feet above sea level. It doesn't normally flood. In fact, it's been - just about ran out of water last summer. All of a sudden, there was this wall of water that ripped through the middle of the city. It picked cars up and threw them into trees. It wrapped cars around railway ridge posts, killed a number of people. And then a lot of that heavy rain also caused more flash flooding at the bottom of the mountain range that the city is on. And there's been a number of deaths there, as well.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to figure out the mechanics of getting so much water going in the first place. Was Towamba at the bottom of some kind of valley or funnel? The...

Mr. MAYNARD: There's a valley up there, yes, but nobody had ever seen anything like this up there. Some people were saying that the wall of water, at one stage, was 20 feet high. It's just such a freak phenomenon in an area like that, which the local reservoir was almost empty, and now the place is flooded.

The death toll from both the Towamba disaster yesterday and also one in the Lockyer Valley - which is a fruit and vegetable growing area west of Brisbane -is a confirmed toll of nine people are dead. However, the state government fears that that toll could more than double. Authorities are still searching for bodies, and also - because the flooding was so widespread and so severe -they're worried that a great more many people may yet be found. Currently, there's something like 66 people missing in the region.

INSKEEP: Now, Towamba, is the area drying out now, or has some of the water remained?

Mr. MAYNARD: Look, it's still raining. Most of that water - a lot of the water that appeared yesterday has sort of run off, but there's still reasonable heavy rain around southeast Queensland. That's the state that Towamba's in. And everybody is hoping that will ease.

Unfortunately for Brisbane, a lot of the water that fell on, I guess Towamba, the Lockyer Valley and closer to the coast, is flowing into the Brisbane River catchment. And we're expecting pretty major flooding here, possibly the worst flooding in 35 years, on Thursday this week. Brisbane hasn't seen a flood of this proportion or what authorities expect of a very long time.

So there was panic buying in the supermarkets today. People were buying - are selling out of bread, the bottled water. And I guess when the flooding was happening in central Queensland in cities like Rockhampton and Bundaberg, more recently, had major river levels moving through them, everyone in Brisbane looked up north and thought, oh. It's just one of those things. But now it's coming this way, and we're all about to experience something that most of us don't want to see.

INSKEEP: Neale Maynard is an editor for the Courier Mail newspaper, which is in Brisbane, Australia. Thanks very much.

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, you're welcome.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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