Flood water in Brisbane peaked below feared catastrophic levels on Thursday but left the city resembling a "war zone," as residents faced a fresh threat in the form of a cyclone forming off the coast.
And flood-ravaged Queensland communities were warned Thursday that they faced years of rebuilding and a recovery of "postwar proportions."
Floodwaters poured into more than 30,000 properties in and around Brisbane, Australia's third-biggest city, before the water peaked early Thursday.
Muddy water inundated about 12,000 homes and 2,500 businesses, smashed roads and shuttered the city center.
The swollen Brisbane River was expected to surge again at 4 p.m. local time, but it had begun to recede from its peak of just over 14 feet early Thursday morning.
Officials warned of the risk of further severe flooding in the coming weeks, with two months of the wet season ahead and overflowing dams needing seven days to empty to normal levels.
Parts of Brisbane resembled the canal city of Venice, Italy, on Thursday with residents using small boats to check on low-lying properties in street that had disappeared under several feet of water.
"What I'm seeing looks more like a war zone in some places," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said, after surveying the disaster from the air. "All I could see was their rooftops ... underneath every single one of those rooftops is a horror story.
"This morning as I look across not only the capital city, but three-quarters of my state, we are facing a reconstruction effort of post-war proportions."
Brisbane police, meanwhile, patrolled the city's waterways and neighborhoods in search of looters, after three men were arrested for trying to steal boats. A bull shark was sighted in the muddy water that filled one suburb.
And Main Roads Minister Craig Wallace said emergency services workers were becoming increasingly frustrated by people treating the floods as a “tourist attraction.”
Meanwhile, the flooding might boost housing market activity in Brisbane, experts said, as residents rebuilt and renovated damaged homes.
“Socially, it’s terrible to have things destroyed,” Ben Jarman, a Sydney-based economist at JPMorgan, told Bloomberg. “But if you have to replace them, that looks good in growth numbers.”
Outside of Brisbane, other Queensland communities faced a long recovery period from devastating flood waters that at one point this week covered an area the size of France and Germany combined.
Three-quarters of the state has been declared a disaster zone. Bligh said there were now 70 towns and cities affected by flooding, ''either because they have been inundated themselves or they have been cut off from major supply lines and isolated for weeks.''
Australia's big supermarket chains called on the Army to help in a massive airlift of food and other essential supplies, after panic buying emptied shelves in towns and cities cut off by floods.
In one uplifting story, employees of Queensland mining giant Clive Palmer have thanked him for saving their lives. Palmer, one of Australia's richest men, reportedly sent his private helicopter to rescue up to 60 people from treacherous floodwaters around his horse stud in south-east Queensland.
Among them were four of his staff members, who sat stranded on the roof of the Cold Mountain Stud in Moore for 13 hours, watching as drowning horses thrashed in the waters below them.
"I will never, ever forget what Clive did for me. I owe my life to him," 22-year-old Murray Sullivan, told the harness racing website harnesslink.com.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecast that a storm in the Coral Sea off Queensland's north coast would become a cyclone in 24 to 48 hours, but while it would bring fresh rains to Queensland, it was expected to move away from the coast.
The entire deluge has been blamed on a La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific. Last year was Australia's third wettest on record, and weather officials forecast an above average cyclone season.