4 dead, rooftop rescues in Australia floods
By Patrick Hamilton, AFPBRISBANE, Australia--Helicopters plucked dozens of stranded Australians to safety in dramatic rooftop rescues Monday as severe floods swept the northeast, killing four people and inundating thousands of homes.
January 29, 2013, 12:38 am TWN
The body of one man carried off by rising waters was found in the Queensland state capital Brisbane and another further north at Gympie, following the earlier discovery of an elderly man who died near the city of Bundaberg.
A pregnant woman and her three-year-old son were hospitalized with head injuries after a large tree fell on them as they were walking in Brisbane. The boy later died in hospital, Australian Associated Press reported late Monday.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced that an acute emergency was unfolding in Bundaberg, home to about 50,000 people some 360 kilometers (220 miles) north of Brisbane, with people scrambling to get out as the river hit a record peak.
One family zipped their infant son into a waterproof bag to be winched to safety by helicopter as floods surrounded their car on Sunday at Biloela, west of Bundaberg, with the 14-month-old too small for the airlift harness.
Newman said authorities were now in “uncharted territory,” with debris-laden floodwaters roaring through the town at such speeds that water rescues were no longer viable.
There were fears homes could be ripped from foundations and police issued a mandatory evacuation order, warning there was an “imminent danger of people being killed and drowned.”
Some 60 patients at the local hospital were shifted to upper floors, with more than 2,000 houses flooded and “many thousands” of residents affected.
Newman said a “significant number” of people were soon to be trapped indoors.
“We're very concerned that the velocity of the water and the rise in water levels means that literally houses ... could be swept away. This is a very real prospect,” he told reporters.
Fourteen helicopters, including two army Black Hawks, would fly rescue missions until nightfall and Newman said the government was scrambling to find extra aircraft.
“We've got to pull all stops out to do this before it gets dark,” he said.