Floods Hit Empty Brisbane; 20,000 Homes in Danger

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On Wednesday, flood waters poured into Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, swamping neighborhoods as the muddy waters reached the tops of traffic lights in some parts of city.

It could be Brisbane's worst flooding in a century. The city's mayor said at least 20,000 homes were in danger of being inundated.

At least 22 people have been killed and over 40 are still missing in the flooding throughout the northeastern state of Queensland since heavy rains that started in November drenched an area larger than Texas.

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

Brisbane, the state capital with a population of 2 million, is largest city to face down the waters, and officials expect the death toll to rise.

The Brisbane River is expected to crest on Thursday and meteorologists have predicted the level would be lower that previously thought.

If correct, the new forecast meant the waters would not reach the depth of 1974 floods that swept the city. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the news was welcome, but of little comfort.

"This is still a major event, the city is much bigger, much more populated and has many parts under flood that didn't even exist in 1974," she said. "We are still looking at an event which will cripple parts of our city."

The dragged-out crisis escalated when a violent storm sent a 26-foot (eight meter), 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. Late Wednesday, Bligh said the number of missing had been revised down to 43.

The flooding is shaping up to become Australia' most expensive disaster, with an estimated price tag of at least $5 billion.

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