Image: Flooded streets in Dalby, Australia
Dan Proud Photography  /  Getty Images
The streets of the town of Dalby, Australia, are inundated with water from the Myall Creek on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/12/2011 5:44:02 PM ET 2011-01-12T22:44:02

"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.

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Toowoomba, a city in southeast Queensland about 80 miles west of Queensland's capital city Brisbane, was particularly hard-hit this week.

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.'”

Flooding in Australia - 12 Jan 2011
Newspix Via Rex Usa
Jordan Rice drowned after telling rescuers to save his 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

Photos: Australia's flood disaster continues

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  1. An aerial view of flood water inundating the Wimmera and Southern Mallee region in Victoria, Australia, Wednesday. Evacuations have been ordered in several western and north-western Victorian towns as they brace for the worst flooding in over 200 years. Record rainfall has inundated the region and causing several river water levels to rise. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Family members of the deceased mourn at the funeral of mother and son killed in last week's flash floods in Toowoomba Wednesday. Donna Maree Rice, 43, and Jordan Rice, 13, were swept away in the flash floods that struck the Lockyer Valley, taking the lives of 20 people. Jordon had told a rescuer to save his younger brother first. (Matt Roberts / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A Brisbane City Council worker is dwarfed by a mountain of household debris dumped next to the sports grounds at the Victoria Park Golf Club on Jan. 17 following devastating floods in the city. (Dave Hunt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. People fill sand bags on Jan. 17 to try to stop their properties in Horsham from flooding, as the Wimmera River was expected to peak overnight, splitting the town in two. (Luis Enrique Ascui / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Local resident Monica Ditchmen (front) and Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce sit together during an afternoon briefing at a school on Jan. 16 after the town of Grantham, Queensland was devastated by flooding (Eddie Safarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A man adds to a pile of debris on the edge of a street as he cleans a flood-damaged house after the Brisbane River receded in the suburb of Westend on Jan. 14. As Australia's third-largest city began cleaning up stinking mud and debris in flood-hit areas, whole suburbs remained submerged. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Children unable to gain access to a playground near the Wimmera river in Horsham, Victoria on Monday Jan. 17. Residents and emergency crews sandbagged properties and evacuations were ordered in the town in preparation for what was expected to be the worst flooding in over 200 years. Up to 20 towns in addition to those already flooded or under threat are expected to be hit by floodwaters in coming days (Richard Kendall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Narelle Cole gently wipes silt from a 21-year-old photo of her daughter Kerrie, which she salvaged from the ruins of her inundated home in Ipswich on Jan. 14. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Prime Minister Julia Gillard, right, speaks to 66-year-old local resident Kerry Yem, holding her dog Becky at a flood evacuation centre in Helidon, Queensland on Jan. 14. (Gary Ramage / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Tony Garcia surveys the remains of his father's flood-devastated 1963 Austin Morris in Ipswich on Jan. 14. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Alice Richter-Ward cleans the mud from her Ryan Street home in the West End area of Brisbane on Jan. 14 after floodwaters inundated many parts of the city. As the waters receded, Brisbane residents began shoveling mud from homes, footpaths and roads. (Eddie Safarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The mud covered friends of Andrew Taylor, second from right, pose around a destroyed piano as they help his family clean their house after floodwaters receded in the Brisbane suburb of Westend on Jan. 14. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A sales representative looks out from the entrance of a flooded wine wholesale store in Brisbane on Jan.13. Flood water in Australia's third-biggest city peaked below feared catastrophic levels on Thursday but Brisbane and other devastated regions faced years of rebuilding as a fresh flood threat loomed with a cyclonic storm building off the coast. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The Brisbane River breaks its banks to flood residential areas west of Brisbane Jan. 13. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Friends pitch in to save local resident Paul O'Leary's home in the Bulimba suburb of Brisbane after flooding on January 13. Australia's third-largest city Brisbane was turned into a "war zone" on January 13 with whole suburbs under water and infrastructure smashed as the worst flood in decades hit 30,000 properties. (Eddie Safarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Flood affected residents are comforted at the QE-2 Flood Evacuation centre at Nathan in Brisbane, Australia, on Jan. 13. While the Brisbane River peaked one metre below the record 1974 peak of 5.45 metres, Brisbane residents face huge infrastructure issues as the cleanup starts. (Tony Phillips / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Oil swirls around vehicles submerged by flood waters in an industrial area of Brisbane on Jan. 13. (Tim Wimborne / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. An unidentified woman uses a hose to pump water out of an office in the city center of Brisbane, Australia on Jan. 13, 2011. Floodwaters washing through Australia's third-largest city crested Thursday just shy of record levels but high enough to submerge entire neighborhoods and cause damage one official likened to the aftermath of war. (Tertius Pickard / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A man looks at debris floating across a flooded street in the inner Brisbane suburb of West End, Jan. 12. Deadly floodwaters flowed onto the streets in Australia's northeastern state of Queensland after drenching rains that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, inundating an area larger than France and Germany combined. (Giulio Saggin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A vehicle is swept away in floodwaters in southeast Queensland, Jan. 12. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Anne Smart sits on the step of her flooded house after rainwaters the day before inundated the city of Ipswich. (Eddie Safarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Ipswich motorway is cut west of Brisbane. Brisbane and Ipswich were bracing for their worst-ever floods, with tens of thousands of homes at risk. (Dave Hunt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Children wade through the flood waters in Brisbane's West End, Jan. 11. (Jennifer Hillhouse / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Flood waters swamp the shopping center in the city of Toowoomba on Jan. 11. (Nicole Alayne Hammermeister / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Brisbane River rises in central Brisbane on Jan. 11. Thousands of people were urged to leave the outskirts of Australia's third-largest city, Brisbane, as flood waters raced eastward. (Mick Tsikas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A passenger in a car waves for help as a flash flood sweeps across an intersection in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, on Jan. 10. (Tomas Guerin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Emergency workers rescue a man after he was stranded clinging to a tree on a flooded street in Toowoomba on Jan. 10. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. People stand on the rooftop of a house in Grantham, a township between Toowomba and Brisbane, on Jan. 10. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A damaged building stands in central Toowoomba after a flash flood ripped through the center of town on Jan. 10. (Dan Proud Photography / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A man holds up a shirt on the roof of a house in Toowoomba on Jan. 10. (Reuters TV / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Bystanders look at damage caused by flash flooding in Toowoomba on Jan. 10. (Alicia Morrison / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A resident of Maroochydore stands outside a store that has been sand bagged in preparation for flooding on Jan. 11. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Cars stand piled up after flood waters rushed through Toowoomba on Jan. 10. (Keira Lappin / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Food waters slam cars into a bridge on a street in Toowoomba on Jan. 10. (Anthony Farmer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Ipswich resident Warwick Roberts loads his car with free sandbags from emergency services amid heavy flooding in the area on Jan.11. (Eddie Safarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Debris and an overturned car float in central Toowoomba after floodwater ripped through the town center on Jan.10. (Dan Proud Photography / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. People watch from Kangaroo Point Cliffs as an emergency vessel recovers three lost boat pontoons on the Brisbane River on Jan.11. (Eddie Safarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Young flood victim tells rescuers to save brother instead

Map: Australia floods

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