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Aussie workers concerned by record floods

Local fundraiser to raise money for victims of natural disaster that left 10 dead and dozens missing



Sally McWilliam wishes she were back home in Brisbane right now so that she could help friends and family cope with the devastating flash floods in the region.

"My family's from Brisbane, so it's quite concerning for me," she said. "It's just an inundation of rain, it's been raining almost every day since October, just an absolute inundation of rain. The rivers have broken banks, the dams have broken banks, it's not going away."

Two months ago when she was home, constant rain brought damage to the downstairs floor of her family home, destroying a shed, lounge area and several pieces of her sister's artwork.

The damage, McWilliam said, is "minimal" compared to the dangers that other Brisbane residents are seeing.

"In the city area, I just saw photos," she said. "There's two of the main streets in the city flash flooded and the water level is up to the windows on the cars. People just have to leave their cars and basically run because there's a flash flood in the city. So it's the low-lying areas and streets that are really badly affected.

"The worst part is the rain's not going to let up. It just keeps coming, everyone just needs a break from it."

Morgan Dunn, an Australian working for Whistler Blackcomb, is organizing a fundraiser at Merlin's in the next two weeks that will send money to a fund set up by the Queensland government for flood victims. More details will be announced as they are available.

"Parts of my family and friends have been evacuated from their homes and have been put in evacuation centres around Brisbane," Dunn said on Wednesday. "I have other friends and families that are in suburbs that are under water, and the water's rising around them. Nobody is sure what's going to happen."

Officials in the South Pacific country, which is home to hundreds of foreign workers in Whistler, are warning residents in low-lying areas of the eastern city of Brisbane to get to high ground as they grapple with a tsunami-like flash flood that ripped through nearby Toowoomba on Monday, a flood sparked by a storm that saw up to 15 centimetres of rain fall in a half-hour.

The Age newspaper described Brisbane as a "ghost town" as power was cut to 100,000 customers while floodwaters continued to rise, bringing a death toll to 10 people with 78 people reported missing.

Over 900 streets were expected to be hit with high water Wednesday as the Brisbane River reached a projected peak of 4.5 metres at about 3 p.m. Brisbane time.

The floods, resulting from months of rain, have been called the worst that the Queensland region has seen since 1893, with around 40,000 properties at risk of flooding and reports of panic at the city's supermarkets, according to the Age .

Anna Bligh, Queensland's premier, warned residents on Tuesday that river levels would rise above the levels of devastating floods that ripped through the region in 1974, when the Brisbane River jumped its banks and flooded the surrounding areas. At the time the region experienced a wet spring and by the end of October water systems in Queensland were reaching their capacity.

Heavy rains persisted for three weeks before the flood occurred on Jan. 27, 1974, during Australia Day weekend. 6,700 homes were flooded during the incident itself and in the end approximately 8,500 homes saw water breach their walls.

This year's event saw similar circumstances, as rain has fallen continuously in the area for months. Just last summer Toowoomba had nearly run out of water, according to a report on NPR's website, but suddenly this year a wall of water just ripped right through the city and is now threatening Brisbane.

With floods raging an ocean away, Whistlerites, foreign and otherwise, will gather to remember those back home and to celebrate Australia Day, which is to take place here on Jan. 26. Events in town include a 12-hour party at Village Lounge and Nightclub, located at the space formerly occupied by the Savage Beagle.

The event will see DJ's Lazy B from Adelaide spinning Aussie House, Sydney's Yolanda Be Cool spinning its hit album "We Speak No Americano" and Tasmania's Jess Tucker spinning from midnight to 2 a.m. to round out the party.

- with files from Andrew Mitchell