'Horror story under every rooftop' as Brisbane sees waters recede

Deadly floodwaters began to recede from the devastated streets of Australia's third-largest city yesterday as officials warned it could be days before people can return to inundated homes and businesses.

Parts of Brisbane have been left submerged beneath a sea of brown water, with rooftops poking through the surface.

"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."

One man died in the city after being sucked into a storm drain by the muddy waters which surged through the streets. The discovery, plus two other bodies found yesterday, brought the death toll of the floods crisis to 25 since late November.

About 200 police officers have been patrolling flooded streets around the clock.

Three men were charged with looting after police said they tried to steal dinghies from the swollen river, which breached its banks on Tuesday.

And one group of residents was lucky not to disappear into surging floodwater when the street they were walking along collapsed beneath them.

"Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation," said an emotional Ms Bligh.

"We've seen three-quarters of our state having experienced the devastation of raging floodwaters and we now face a reconstruction task of post-war proportions."

Officials told Brisbane residents it would be days before they could return to some of the 30,000 inundated homes and businesses – although many of them will never be habitable again.

The flooding across Queensland has submerged dozens of towns, washing away homes, businesses, roads, bridges and rail lines. At least 61 people are still missing, and the death toll is expected to rise.

Many of those unaccounted for disappeared from around Toowoomba, a city west of Brisbane in the Lockyer Valley that saw massive flash floods on Monday. Fourteen died in that flood alone.

Police warned the death toll was likely to rise as search and rescue teams accessed more devastated areas.