Hundreds of Queenslanders have fled to higher ground or been rescued from flood waters with thousands on alert on Friday night as severe thunderstorms lash the state’s south-east.
Intense rainfall has hit Brisbane, Ipswich, the Lockyer valley, Darling Downs, Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, Wide Bay-Burnett, Bundaberg and Gladstone, the result of a massive low-pressure trough.
More than 170mm has fallen in 24 hours, with some places exceeding 260mm in two days.
The unseasonal deluge is Queensland’s sixth deadly flood since December, which scientists have attributed to a second La Niña weather pattern in two years.
The Bureau of Meteorology issued major flood warnings for the Condamine, Logan and Bremer rivers and the Warrill, Laidley and Lockyer creeks.
On Friday night, the system was moving north over the region between Caboolture and Gladstone, including Maroochydore, Gympie, Bundaberg, Cooroy, Nambour and Rainbow Beach.
Laura Boekel, a senior forecaster at the BoM, said on Friday the deluge was an “evolving situation”, with intense rain capable of triggering flash floods and landslides, which could be “potentially life threatening”.
More than 700 roads were cut or affected by flood waters, including the Bruce Highway near Gin Gin, with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services conducting 20 flood rescues in 24 hours.
Gympie regional council issued a watch and act alert to residents with intense rainfall forecast on Friday afternoon.
“This may cause dangerous flash flooding. Residents are urged to stay off roads,” the alert said.
The worst flooding was around Laidley, Gatton and Grantham in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, to the south around Beaudesert, and in Warwick, Cecil Plains, Millerman and Killarney on the Southern Downs.
About 300 homes were affected in Laidley where the Lockyer River was gushing down William Street, the main thoroughfare, on Friday.
The region had downpours of 260mm in the past 48 hours, Lockyer Valley mayor, Tanya Milligan, said on Friday afternoon.
Police knocked on doors and called at least 240 at-risk households, advising them to leave. The Lockyer Valley regional council has eight evacuation centres.
Milligan said another 150mm was expected to fall in the next 24 hours, with showers forecast throughout the weekend and into next week also posing the danger of flash flooding.
She said that “even the talk of showers” would be “very distressing” for some people in the region who had already been through harrowing flood experiences earlier this year.
“It feels really volatile,” she said. “The fact is, that none of us have a crystal ball to give precise locations and how much rainfall, we are actually going to get. But if we were to get a storm cell and have a large velocity, in a small amount of time, to fall on a particular areas, we will be in a whole heap of pain. We are absolutely saturated, this catchment.”
Milligan said residents were issued an emergency warning at 3am Friday, with Grantham’s flood siren sounding four times between 4am and 5am, and again at 8am.
“It was probably a nasty way to wake people up,” she said.
The mayor said more people likely fled their homes and sought shelter with family and friends.
As of about 1pm, Milligan said emergency services had executed six swift water rescues, four of which were for people in flood waters, and two of those were medical episodes.
South East Queensland UHF Emergency Service Team founder, Shane Barnes, said he had been shocked by the intensity of the weather.
“Started my emergency services career and did high schooling in Laidley. Never in my life I would imagine so much water in William Street,” he tweeted on Friday.
The Scenic Rim council issued an emergency alert warning that multiple roads were cut by the flooding Logan River.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the rain wasn’t as constant and intense as downpours that caused catastrophic floods in February, but it would linger into Saturday.
The Brisbane River was not expected to rise above a minor flood level, but the city council opened sandbagging stations and parts of Rocklea and Oxley were inundated on Friday afternoon.
Deputy police commissioner, Steve Gollschewski, urged residents to pay attention to flood warnings and to keep in touch with their families and friends. He also said there had been a number of “avoidable rescues” since the rain began, and urged people not to drive through flood waters.
“We have lost far too many lives on our roads this year and in previous events,” Gollschewski said.
A woman from Calen died in flood waters in the north of the state after her ute was washed away on Wednesday. Two passengers, a 50-year-old Mount Charlton man and a 30-year-old Mount Pelion woman, managed to escape the vehicle.