At least 10 people have been killed and 78 others are missing after the latest downpour hit Australia's flood-wrecked Queensland state. Raging torrents rushed through several towns, washing away cars and houses.
Rescuers on Tuesday rushed to reach residents trapped on their roofs overnight as the onslaught of muddy water tossed cars like toys, carried away furniture as it washed through stores.
Scores of emergency calls were made as the flood swamped Toowoomba, a city of about 90,000 in Queensland state west of Brisbane.
At least two children were among the dead and Queensland police said the number of people missing had risen to 66.
Authorities later urged thousands of residents on Brisbane's outskirts to leave the areas with floodwaters set to rise.
Jenna Bowman, a Brisbane resident, told Al Jazeera that the situation was "quite frightening".
"I could see suburbs along the river - they were just going underwater - the Brisbane [flood] barrier has been breached and it is rapidly closing in on the inner city suburbs and lot of people have been told to leave.
"The actual banks of the [Brisbane] river have been breached ... and a lot of places are preparing for the worst ... I dread to think [about the scale of damage] and I have no idea what I will be going home to - when I do get to go home - they expect it to be worse than the 1974 floods that Brisbane faced," she said.
Anna Bligh, the Queensland state premier, told reporters: "Mother Nature has unleashed something shocking on the Toowoomba region.
"This is without a doubt our darkest hour of the last fortnight."
Darkness and fog prohibited the state emergency service helicopters from overnight rescues, and some people were still waiting to be plucked from roof tops on Tuesday morning.
Rescue workers were later battling more bad weather and heavy rain and thunderstorms were forecast for the region for most of the day, which could lead to more flash flooding, the Bureau of Meteorology warned.
'Freak of nature'
Bligh described the waters as "a freak of nature", saying they had hit communities with "lightning speed" and left at least six people missing.
"We believe we're looking for at least three young pedestrians and two vehicles that seem to have been washed away," she said.
Footage showed vehicles flipped and tossed into trees in Toowoomba when the sudden torrent swept through.
"A wall of water came down, picked my ute [utility vehicle] up, pushed it sidewards," said Steve Jones, Lockyer Valley mayor, likening the damage to a cyclone or atomic bomb.
"If it had been a little car it would have killed everyone in it."
Bligh said authorities held grave fears for the safety of a number of people in the nearby Grantham township.
"We are unable to reach some 30 people in the town of Grantham," she said.
"They have all gathered together in a primary school at Grantham. They are completely isolated by fast moving flood waters."
Bligh said the military would begin searching for stranded people at first light while police issued warnings that residents of low-lying areas of other towns including Chinchilla should evacuate to higher ground.
Julia Gillard, the prime minister, said 150 regions across three Australian states had been hit by the deluge since November.
More than 8,000 claims for emergency assistance had been made, worth $10m, and many more were expected.
But the damage bill would take some time to process, Gillard warned, with the flooding's end not yet in
sight and many roads, rail and bridge assets still under water.
The deluge has wiped out crops and brought dozens of coal mines to a standstill, driving up world prices and causing problems for the key steel-making industry.
The disaster is expected to cost Australia at least $6bn.
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Source: Al Jazeera and agencies