Upriver, the waters are subsiding – leaving devastation behind

The township of Grantham, in the Lockyer Valley – an area known as Australia's salad bowl – was a desolate sight yesterday, with the receding waters exposing a mountain of sodden debris including furniture and a child's swing. Houses swept off their stumps by the ferocious torrent sat surrounded by rubbish and tangled wreckage.

As three more bodies were found – including those of one man killed in a house and another in nearby Lyon's Ridge – stories emerged of extraordinary survival and loss. In Grantham, helicopters plucked people off the roofs of houses even as the buildings were washed downstream, according to Peter Friend, a local councillor.

Mr Friend himself tied a ladder to the side of his house and climbed on to the roof with his wife, her 81-year-old mother and his dogs, he told the Sydney Morning Herald. They all survived, but at least four people died in the township, which has a population of about 360. One local man saw a house hurtle past in the floods and heard screams for help from those inside.

The death toll in Grantham, and other hamlets around the rural town of Toowoomba, rose to 13. As emergency crews gained access to some of the devastated communities for the first time, an estimated 40 people were missing.

Queensland's assistant police commissioner, Steve Gollschewski, said the figure was certain to increase as wrecked buildings were scoured for bodies. And the state premier, Anna Bligh, warned: "Families who are still holding out hope, some of them are likely to have their hopes tragically crushed."

Nonetheless hope still abounded. Bruce Warhurst's four-bedroom house at Postmans Ridge was lifted off its stumps and destroyed when a wall of water likened to an "inland tsunami" crashed through the township. Mr Warhurst's family, who were all out at the time, were still hoping that he might have got out just in time. But they have heard no word despite frantic efforts to locate him, including posting messages on Facebook.

Others were in no such doubt. Steve and Sandra Matthews, from the hamlet of Spring Blugg, helped their two children climb to the safety of their roof cavity, but were swept away before they could follow them. The couple's bodies were found later that day, several kilometres down the creek, according to The Australian.

Nine people were still missing in the settlement of Murphys Creek. The police commissioner, Bob Atkinson, said the search for bodies was complicated by the conditions. "Some of these homes have been demolished and we fear that some people have been swept from their homes," he said. "So we'll need to do aerial searches in case they've been swept out to paddocks."

Those confirmed dead include a four-year-old who fell out of a rescue boat near Ipswich, a satellite town just west of Brisbane, and was carried away by the floods. His mother survived.

The flood peak hit Ipswich late yesterday, peaking at 9.4metres, about a metre below expectations. The town's mayor, Paul Pisasale, said 6,000 homes had been saved, observing: "It's the difference between bad news and devastation." More than 1,500 residents spent the night in evacuation centres, some having fled with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

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