BRISBANE, Australia, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Thousands of residents of Australia’s third-largest city evacuated homes on Wednesday as massive floods threatened to inundate the financial district, sparked panic buying of food and left authorities despairing for more than 90 people missing.
The biggest floods in decades have so far killed 14 people since starting their devastating march across the northern mining state of Queensland last month, crippling the coking coal industry, destroying infrastructure, sending the local currency to four-week lows and threatening to put a brake on the economy.
With a flood surge expected to peak in the Queensland capital of Brisbane, a city of two million, on Thursday, search and rescue crews took advantage of rare sunshine on Wednesday to look for those still missing from tsunami-like flash floods that tore through townships west of the city this week.
“I think we’re all going to be shocked by what they find in these towns that were hit by that tsunami yesterday,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told local television on Wednesday.
The worsening floods are forcing economists to raise estimates of the economic impact, with one central bank board member quoted on Wednesday as saying the disaster could cost as much as 1 percent of economic growth -- equal to almost $13 billion, double the previous highest estimate. [ID:nSDYBCE7YF]
In Brisbane, thousands of homes and businesses were inundated as swirling flood waters rose in and around the riverside city, triggering residents to flee with few possessions to higher ground and evacuation centres.
City Mayor Campbell Newman said the number of homes expected to be hit by flooding had risen to 19,700, affecting up to 45,000 people, with the military now running relief flights with helicopters and C-130 transports.
Dams built to protect communities are at bursting point.
Power company Energex has switched off power to some low-lying areas of Brisbane, including parts of the financial district, to protect life and property. Residents
Bligh said the Brisbane River, which winds through the city centre, should peak at the high tide on Thursday around mid-afternoon, with thousands of properties to be inundated before that time, but she appealed for calm.
“Right across this region, this river is creating chaos, terrifying people and causing damage already,” she said.
Unmoored boats and large logs could be seen floating down the Brisbane River, which was swirling with flotsam as the sun broke through on Wednesday for what was expected to be a brief respite, allowing rescue helicopters to resume flying.
Some scenes in the city were surreal with early-morning joggers trying to carry on as normal, despite parts of the their routes being submerged.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard travelled to the city to inspect the devastation and said she was deeply concerned about the impact of the flood on jobs.
“I have been shocked. I think we’ve all been shocked by the images of that wall of water just wreaking such devastation. The dimensions of it are truly mind-boggling,” Gillard said.
“We will have to work through the long-term economic impacts for Queensland, and of course the huge infrastructure re-building task to come as floodwaters subside.” (Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in CANBERRA and Balazs Koranyi in SYDNEY)
Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.
Sign up for a free trial of our full service at https://www.breakingviews.com/trial and follow us on Twitter @Breakingviews and at www.breakingviews.com. All opinions expressed are those of the authors.