Brisbane faces floods clear-up of "post-war proportions"

BRISBANE, Australia (Reuters) - Deadly floods in Australia’s third-biggest city were peaking on Thursday below the levels Brisbane had feared, but the state premier said they would require a reconstruction effort of “post-war proportions.”

The floods have so far killed at least 17 people, left 43 missing and caused billions of dollars of damage in Queensland state. One central bank economist has warned that it could cut the GDP measure of national income by as much as 1 percent.

“The Brisbane river has now reached its peak,” police said in a statement, as an official weather bureau flood gauge in the center of the city of two million showed a depth of 4.45 meters.

That was below earlier expected highs of above 5 meters and less than a peak in 1974 of 5.45 meters which caused massive damage and loss of life.

The swollen river was moving rapidly and filled with debris, after bursting its banks and engulfing large districts of the city a day earlier. Power has been cut in 116,000 homes due to concerns the waters could cause electrocutions.

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“This is going to be a long recovery. This morning as I look across not only the capital city, but three-quarters of my state, we are facing a reconstruction effort of post-war proportions,” state Premier Anna Bligh told Australian radio.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said while many areas of the financial district were still inundated, the lower than expected peak would save around 8,000 properties.

“We all now have to rally together to help these people clean up, the ones that have suffered impacts,” Newman told Australian television.

The revised flood figure, he said, indicated 11,900 properties would be fully flooded and another 14,700 partially affected. These included 2,500 businesses that would be completely inundated.

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And while drinking water supplies in the city were safe and secure, Newman there had been damage to sewage pumping plants on the city’s outskirts, which posed a threat of infection.

Power officials said they were planning to bring in large generators to restore power in the city center as soon as the water cleared.

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“In the CBD (central business district), we’ve got about 10 blocks without power. That will be probably about another 3-4 days,” said Mike Swanston of power provider Energex.

But devastated areas further west, hit by flash flooding on Monday described as an “inland tsunami,” could be without power for weeks, he added.

The city woke up to bright sunshine on Thursday and several hundred people had gathered on a vantage point above the river to take photographs of the floods at first light. Many factories and homes had only their rooflines visible.

Authorities were also struggling to secure or break up three large objects or vessels on the Brisbane River.

A rescue helicopter is due to fly in a 1.5 metric ton anchor at first light to secure a ferry that had broken its guide lines and was seen as a potential hazard.

TV footage also showed a tug boat trying to secure a huge concrete walkway that was ripped from the banks of the river during the floods.

Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in Canberra; editing by Rob Taylor and Philippa Fletcher