|Complete clean-up of Brisbane could take months, and reconstruction up to two years, according to the mayor [AFP]
A volunteer army is wading through stinking mud and drenched homes in Brisbane in a massive clean-up operation as floodwaters recede in Australia's third-largest city.
About 7,000 residents joined 600 military personnel in what was dubbed Salvation Saturday to shovel the muck and clean houses and businesses inundated by the Brisbane river earlier this week, another casualty of weeks of flooding across Queensland.
Armed with mops, brooms, garbage bags and cleaning supplies, the volunteers were transported to the areas of Queensland state's capital most in need.
"Water has pretty much receded in many parts across Brisbane and there are thousands of volunteers offering their help by bringing out piles of furniture soiled by the silt that has been left behind," Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from the city, said.
"Members of the Australian military are lending a major helping hand."
Campbell Newman, Brisbane's mayor, praised the overwhelming turnout. "Everybody rolls up their sleeves in this town," he said.
He cautioned, however, that the complete clean-up of the city would take months, and that reconstruction could take up to two years.
The floodwaters that swamped entire neighbourhoods in Brisbane have left behind a thick layer of putrid sludge that covered streets and thousands of houses.
Homes badly damaged
More than 30,000 homes and businesses were flooded with muddy water. Officials say that some homes have been so badly damaged, they will need to be destroyed.
Weeks of relentless rains and flooding across Australia's northeast have left 26 people dead, with 28 others still missing.
Most of the people unaccounted for are from the Lockyer Valley and the nearby city of Toowoomba, where a sudden downpour on Monday caused a flash flood likened to an inland tsunami.
Some parts of the electricity network in southeastern Queensland were washed away in the flooding, and energy supplier Energex said more than 28,650 properties were still without power.
It planned to restore power to more properties on Saturday as floodwaters receded, allowing greater access to infrastructure.
The overflowing rivers and continued rain in some parts of Australia led to flood alerts in four other states on Saturday.
The multibillion-dollar toll includes losses from flooded mines and formerly fertile farmland, now a boggy mess of rotting vegetation.
Mining companies have announced they will not be able to meet contracts for coal, Australia's biggest export, due to the flooding in Queensland, while farmers there are counting crop losses that could push up world food prices.
Blow to farmers
The flooding is a particularly cruel blow to farmers, many of whom had hoped for bumper crops after much of Australia emerged from its worst drought in more than a century.
The overall cost to Australia's 1.3tn Australian dollar ($1.29tn) economy from the Queensland floods could amount to as much as $13bn, or one per cent of gross domestic product, if infrastructure damage is severe, Stephen Walters, a JPMorgan economist, wrote in a research report.
Some economists are already trimming the forecasts for economic growth this year. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has cut its forecast to three per cent from 3.3 per cent. JP Morgan Securities cut its prediction to 3.3 per cent from 3.7 per cent.
Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister, doubled on Friday the number of soldiers involved in the country's flood-recovery effort to 1,200.
The deployment of troops to the country's northeast marks Australia's largest for a natural disaster since Cyclone Tracy destroyed the northern city of Darwin in 1974.
"Now is the right time to dramatically increase the number of defence personnel who are working in Queensland to assist with the Queensland floods," Gillard said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies