BRISBANE, Australia — "Save my brother first."
Those dramatic words were uttered by Jordan Rice, 13, as a rescuer approached him, his 10-year-old sibling Blake, and their mother, Donna Rice. The three were trapped by floodwaters that swamped their car, which suddenly died at a watter-logged intersection in the Queensland city of Toowoomba.
Blake was rescued but Jordan and his mother were swept downstream to their deaths on Monday.
The family's plight and other dramatic tales of rescues and tragedy have put a very human face to the devastation wrought Australia's worst floods in decades.
The flooding, which has killed at least 22 people since late November, has submerged dozens of towns, washed away homes, highways and rail lines, and left an area the size of Germany and France combined under water.
In a story Wednesday in the Toowoomba Chronicle, John Tyson recounted how his partner of 28 years and one of their sons perished after their car's engine went dead at an intersection. As water crept up, Donna Rice called triple zero, the emergency number in Australia, for help.
Donna Rice, 43, and her two sons climbed on to the roof of their car awaiting help as floodwaters rose rapidly.
“All these people were just standing around until an old scrawny guy grabbed a bit of rope, wrapped it around himself and jumped in,” John Tyson said.
“Jordan can't swim and is terrified of water.
“But when the man went to rescue him, he said, ‘Save my brother first.'”
Tyson told the Chronicle the man rescued Blake and tried to tie the rope around Jordan and his mother but it broke. The pair were swept away to their deaths.
Tyson wept as he told of his son's bravery, according to the newspaper.
“I can only imagine what was going on inside to give up his life to save his brother, even though he was petrified of water,” he said.
“He is our little hero.”
Tyson and Rice have four sons together — Chris, 22, Kyle, 16, Jordan, 13, and Blake, 10.
"He loved his family and he would do anything for them," Jordan's brother Kyle, 16, told The Australian. "He was real shy with everyone else; wouldn't say a word. But courage kicked in, and he would rather his little brother would live."
Warren McErlean, one of the rescuers, tearfully recounted how Blake had begged him to also save his mother as he was being rescued. "He was just pleading with me: 'Please save my mum,' just back, and I could see his face," McErlean told The Australian.
In another dramatic tale that gripped the nation, television viewers watched in horror as a family of three perched on top of their white four-wheel-drive vehicle as it slowly dropped into the murky, debris-laden water near Grantham.Video: Video shows tragic family in rising floodwaters (on this page)
The events were filmed by a media helicopter.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told reporters the mother and child were rescued by helicopter but there was no trace of the man or the vehicle when the aircraft returned. Bligh said she had received several phone calls about the family on the white car after the news coverage, adding there was "a great feeling of helplessness for everyone who saw it."
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The father was later identified as James Perry, the former chief steward of harness racing in New South Wales.
Friends told the Brisbane Times he had recently left his job at a horse racing track in South Korea to take a new post in the rural Queensland town of Toowoomba so he could be closer to his family.
''James is one of the kindest people I have met and among the best chairman of stewards we have had in the sport,'' said James Dumesny, New South Wales Harness Racing Club chief executive.Video: Australian official: Flooding 'a surreal experience' (on this page)
A statement from Racing Queensland said authorities had informed them that ''Perry is one of the 90 persons lost in the flood but sadly he is among the 20 listed as "feared drowned," according to the Brisbane Times.
In a story with a happier ending, a woman whose home was surrounded by floods gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Ambulances and emergency services helicopters were unable to reach the expecting mother, Kristie Donovan Wieland, so she delivered the baby in her home with the help of husband Andy and neighbors, according to Australian media reports.Story: Scientists see warming link to Australian floods
Australian media dubbed Callum Jack Wieland a "miracle baby," with Sydney's Daily Telegraph describing him as "living proof that amongst the despair in Queensland there is hope."
The plight of Queensland residents has prompted several sports stars to offer help, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Australian soccer star Tim Cahill offering for auction a prize that included travel from anywhere in the world to watch an Everton game. England cricketer Kevin Pietersen said he would auction flights, accommodation and tickets for the Australia-England one-day international in Perth on Feb. 6. And tennis player Samantha Stosur pledged $100 for every ace she serves in Australian tournaments this summer.
The queen of England has
made a private donation to Australian relief efforts, Buckingham Palace said. The amount was not disclosed.
The private donation, the amount of which is not being disclosed, is to the Premier of Queensland's flood relief appeal, a spokesman said.
© 2013 msnbc.com