Tens of thousands of homes are in danger as muddy floodwaters swamp Australia's third-largest city, ripping buildings from Brisbane's riverbanks and launching debris like missiles across surging water. A dozen people are dead and scores missing.

Five children are among the latest casualties in suburban Toowoomba, where what one local official called an "inland tsunami" tore through the Lockyer Valley en route to Brisbane, The New York Times reported. Several Toowoomba residents interviewed by AOL News on the telephone Tuesday were unreachable today, as phone and electricity lines went down in the floods. Their whereabouts and safety are unknown.


One of Australia's worst-ever natural disasters, this week's flooding is the culmination of weeks of summertime downpour in Queensland. Scenes of people stranded on roofs of homes surrounded by water conjured up images of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And waters are expected to rise more before they recede.

"The football stadium is underwater, and it's supposed to get worse tonight apparently. They call it the 'King Tide,' the biggest tide of the year," John, who works at a downtown Brisbane hostel, told AOL News by telephone today. He refused to give his full name out of fear he'd get in trouble with his boss for describing how people are panicking at the hostel.

"No one knows what's going on," he said. "It's pretty crazy."

Standing on high ground on a bluff overlooking the city of 2 million residents, he described a scene of pandemonium below.

"The river's sort of surging, and the boardwalk is engulfed in water. Pontoons and Jet Skis are just rushing past, loose on the water. A big restaurant got ripped out of the riverbank too," he said.


Australian FloodingDan Proud Photography, Getty Images500 photos The streets of Dalby are still inundated with water from the Myall Creek on January 12, 2011 in Dalby, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. Click on the image for more photos.
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Australian Flooding
The streets of Dalby are still inundated with water from the Myall Creek on January 12, 2011 in Dalby, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. Click on the image for more photos.
Dan Proud Photography, Getty Images
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Flooding In Australia
DALBY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: The streets of Dalby are still inundated with water from the Myall Creek on January 12, 2011 in Dalby, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Dan Proud Photography/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

DALBY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: The streets of Dalby are still inundated with water from the Myall Creek on January 12, 2011 in Dalby, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Dan Proud Photography/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

A vehicle is swept away in floodwaters in South East Queensland, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. Deadly floodwaters flowed onto the streets in Australia's northeastern state of Queensland since drenching rains that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, inundating an area larger than France and Germany combined. (AP Photo)

Flooding In Australia

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Pathways and businesses are flooded as the Brisbane river bursts its banks on January 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Pathways and businesses are flooded as the Brisbane river bursts its banks on January 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Inner city Brisbane floods on January 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Inner city Brisbane floods on January 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: People watch on as inner city Brisbane floods on January 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Twelve people so far have been confirmed dead in towns in the Lockyer Valley and many more are reported missing after devastating floods inundated the region. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane with residents and emergency services fearing the worst floods in over 35 years. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

Part of the outer structure of a residence is exposed after being damaged by floodwaters in the Queensland state city of Toowoomba on January 12, 2011 two days after a flash flood rushed through the city inundating homes, farms and washing away vehicles. Australia's third-biggest city Brisbane was besieged on January 12 by the worst floods in decades, threatening more than 30,000 homes as the death toll in raging torrents rose to 12. AFP PHOTO / Nicole Alayne HAMMERMEISTER (Photo credit should read Nicole Alayne HAMMERMEISTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Flooding In Australia

The remains of a floating restaurant called Drift Cafe is swept down the Brisbane River Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011, as floodwaters surge through Brisbane, Australia. At least 22 people have died and more than 40 are missing across Australia's northeastern state of Queensland since drenching rains that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, flooding an area larger than France and Germany combined. (AP Photo/Ken Merrin)

Flooding In Australia

Authorities are working to sandbag other buildings to prevent them from falling into the swollen, furious Brisbane River, and are trying to secure large boats that have pulled free from their moorings, he said.

"They're having to sink some of the bigger boats on purpose, because otherwise they're like a missile shooting down the river," he said. "It's such a strong current, you wouldn't believe it. Watching coast guard boats trying to drive against it upstream, they're going really slow."

Raw sewage is overflowing into the streets as treatment plants are inundated with floodwater, Australia's national broadcaster reported. A bull shark was also spotted in the flooded streets, it said.

Emergency sirens wailed for a second straight day today, alerting office workers to evacuate skyscrapers as the floodwaters drew near. Bridges are closed, and the urban center of Brisbane is becoming increasingly cut off from its suburbs. "The safe area is getting smaller and smaller," John said.


Sponsored LinksShelters set up on the city's outskirts have space for more than 10,000 residents, many of whom are crowded in with their pets as well. Those who haven't yet evacuated are trapped in a winnowing dry area, with only the food they were able to collect before grocery stores shut and employees fled.

"The supermarket has run out of everything. I don't know what we're going to do after a few days," Emma Townsend, who works at City Backpackers across town, told AOL News. "You can't get in and out of the city even by foot. A lot of bridges are closed, and they just closed the freeway.

"The river's about to burst. They think it'll happen tonight when it rains again," she said.

Authorities have said the Brisbane River could peak at its highest level early Thursday and begin to recede by the weekend.

"It's just a sea of water," Townsend said. "All the trees are underwater. You just see the big 'M' from the McDonald's sign sticking up out of the water."