Brisbane residents face an anxious morning with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing a major flood warning overnight, after a “rain bomb” dumped more than 400mm of rain on parts of the already-sodden city on Sunday.
Floodwaters in the Brisbane CBD are expected to peak at 4.0 metres at high tide, slightly below the peak of 4.46 metres recorded in 2011, but authorities warned the two flood events were very different, and some suburbs have already experienced worse damage than in 2011.
Meanwhile, major flood warnings are also in place for areas from Gympie to Grafton in northern NSW, as the intense rain storm moves south over the border.
At 3am, the BoM warned the overtopping of the Lismore levee was imminent, with the Wilsons River expected to reach 13.5 metres on Monday evening, well above the March 1974 peak of 12.15 metres.
In Ipswich, west of Brisbane, flood waters had reached 16.3 metres on Monday morning, well above the major flood level of 11.7 metres.
In Queensland, thousands were without power, and some residents were without fresh water, after damage to pipes around Bribie Island. All south-east Queensland residents were urged to conserve water thanks to challenges posed to water filtration systems.
Schools in 14 local government areas will be closed due to the unfolding emergency.
On Sunday afternoon, people were rescued from their homes and others fled as water lapped at their doorsteps. Boats and debris caused havoc in the Brisbane River and major city roads were cut.
A houseboat skipper had a lucky escape when his boat crashed into the new Brisbane ferry terminal and sank immediately on Sunday morning.
A film-maker making a car advertisement nearby captured the crash. Matthew Porter and his colleagues, fearing the man could have died, raised the alarm.
Police tracked him in the fast-moving water for 500 metres before he reached the Howard Smith Wharves ferry terminal where members of the public pulled the 70-year-old to safety. He sustained no significant injuries, Queensland police said.
Enoggera Road, a six-lane main road just 3km north of Brisbane’s city centre, was cut by flooding at the bridge over Enoggera Creek. Locals who had lived in the area for decades never remember the bridge flooding.
“It didn’t even come close – not within metres, even – in 2011,” one local said on Sunday afternoon.
The Brisbane lord mayor, Adrian Schrinner, said the flood was a very different experience to 2011, when heavy rainfall lasted for more than a week and much of the damage came later as the rivers swelled.
This time the rainfall period has – so far – been shorter but more intense.
Stuart Khan, one of Australia’s leading water experts, said on Twitter that Wivenhoe Dam had inflows of about 1,020 gigalitres over six days in 2o11. In half that time this year, Wivehoe has taken in 1,380GL of water.
It was at 177% capacity – up from about 40% before the rain. The low starting point had helped to mitigate the extent of flooding.
The dam’s manager, Seqwater, began controlled releases of water on Sunday morning, in accordance with procedures developed after the 2011 flood. Those releases would nonetheless heighten river levels.
Much of the unanticipated flooding has happened in Brisbane River tributary catchments. The Enoggera Reservoir, which does not have a gate and releases water when it is over capacity, was at 270% capacity on Sunday night.
Along the catchment, flood waters seeped into places where flooding had not occurred before.
“This place didn’t flood in 2011,” said Gwen Huth, whose property at Wilston in Brisbane’s inner north was flooded on Sunday morning.
“When we moved here we looked and we knew this house wasn’t affected. The backyard is now completely underwater.”
The Brisbane lord mayor told reporters on Sunday the flood was a “unique event”.
“This is different,” Schrinner said. “[In 2011] the rain stopped while the river continued to rise. We have a rain bomb over south-east Queensland at the moment.
“We have creek flooding, river flooding and overland flow happening all at once. As the rain continues, we have at least 24 hours of danger.”
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said on Sunday morning that 1,430 homes in Brisbane were estimated to have been impacted “above the floorboards”.
There were 1,040 people across the south-east in evacuation centres, 550 of those in Gympie.
A major flood warning was issued for the Gympie area as the Mary River rose above 23 metres on Sunday. The town has recorded 1,000mm of rain since Thursday.
The mayor, Glen Hartwig, told Guardian Australia it was too early to tell if the worst danger had passed.
“At this point in time we’re us waiting to see what the impact of [Saturday’s’] deluge in Gympie and the Mary River will have,” he said. “Certainly the river is falling very slowly.”
Scott Morrison said the impact of the flooding was being seen “everywhere from Bundaberg to the border”.
“And all the way out to Toowoomba and particularly in places like Gympie, this is a very serious situation,” the prime minister said.
Disaster recovery payments – $1,000 per adult and $400 per child – will be available to people in the Gympie and North Burnett council areas. The federal government is responding to requests from the Queensland government and payments are expected to be expanded as the disaster unfolds.
Palaszczuk said the weather system was “unpredictable” but would start moving south by Monday. “It’s literally a rain bomb sitting over the entire south-east Queensland,” she said.
Hundreds of schools will be closed. The premier encouraged people to work from home because of “a lot of road closures” and “a lot of water”.
“I’m urging you your children will be staying at home tomorrow and we don’t want people out on the roads,” Palaszczuk said.
“We need our emergency services to get out and about as quickly and safe as possible. Now, also, if you are living in an area where there are, you’re prone to river rises or creek rises, now is probably the time to start thinking about your safety plan.”
Six people have died since the rain began; the latest was a man who became stuck while trying to drive through flood water at Indooroopilly early on Sunday morning. Witnesses told police the man had freed himself from his vehicle and attempted to swim to safety before encountering trouble.
Police were still searching for a man in his 70s who fell overboard from his vessel near the mouth of Breakfast Creek on Saturday afternoon.
Across the border in northern New South Wales, a man was missing in flood waters on Sunday night, as rain continued to batter the state – with warnings of much more to come.
Police will continue searching for the man on Monday after officers in Lismore heard him calling for help on Sunday afternoon. “Police lost sight of the man a short time later,” the force said.
Queensland’s State Emergency Service commissioner, Carlene York, warned that there may be more deaths because of people’s behaviour.
“I want people to speak to their friends, parents to speak to their children about this behaviour, please,” she said.
“There are people on surfboards, people swimming, people trying to cross on waterways and the list goes on. I ask all of you that you take this seriously but you stay off the roads unless you desperately have to be on them for an emergency matter.”
With Australian Associated Press