Image:Farming machinery stuck in field
John Pye  /  AP
A piece of heavy farming machinery is stuck in a flooded field Friday near Grantham, Australia.
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updated 1/14/2011 7:54:45 PM ET 2011-01-15T00:54:45

A volunteer army was wading through stinking mud and drenched homes Saturday in a massive cleanup operation as floodwaters receded in Australia's third-largest city.

Thousands of residents joined 600 military personnel in what was dubbed "Salvation Saturday" to shovel up the muck and clean houses and businesses inundated by the Brisbane River earlier this week, another casualty of weeks of flooding across the state of Queensland.

"Everybody rolls up their sleeves in this town," said Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman, but cautioned that the complete cleanup of the city would take months, and reconstruction could take up to two years.

The floodwaters that swamped entire neighborhoods in Brisbane, the state capital, have left behind a thick layer of putrid sludge that covered streets and thousands of houses. More than 30,000 homes and businesses were flooded with muddy water and officials warned some residents their homes were so badly damaged they'd need to be destroyed.

Weeks of relentless rains and flooding across Australia's northeast have left 26 people dead. An additional 20 people are still missing. Most of the people unaccounted for are from the Lockyer Valley and the nearby city of Toowoomba, where a sudden downpour on Monday caused a flash flood likened to an inland tsunami.

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The overflowing rivers and continued rain in some parts of Australia have led to flood alerts in four other states Saturday.

The multibillion dollar toll includes losses from flooded mines and formally fertile farmland, now a boggy mess of rotting vegetation.

Mining companies have announced that they won't be able to meet contracts for coal, Australia's biggest export, due to the flooding in Queensland state while farmers there are counting crop losses that could push up world food prices.

The flooding is a particularly cruel blow to farmers, many of whom had hoped for bumper crops after much of Australia emerged from its worst drought in more than a century.

John Bishop, a tall and burley 66-year-old farmer, pointed to where a crop of lettuce remains hidden under a foot (30 centimeters) of water in the Lockyer Valley, which is west of Brisbane and provides much of Queensland's fresh produce. Elsewhere in the valley, watermelons are rotting in the ground and soaked lucerne — a high quality feed for livestock — will have to be trashed.

Bishop says some farmers anxious to begin working their sodden land have been told by police to hold off until a search for the bodies of missing local residents is completed.

Bishop's farm on Tent Hill is on the valley's higher ground and escaped inundation. But farmers like him with salvageable crops will struggle to truck them to market with local roads washed out and bridges damaged.

He said any more heavy rain on the sodden soil would be catastrophic for the valley where his family has farmed since 1939. "We're hardy stock in this valley," he said. "It'll take time, but we'll recover."

Even more frightening for farmers is the Bureau of Meteorology's prediction that rain could continue until the end of March due to the cool conditions in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean associated with the current La Nina — a weather system known for producing heavy rains.

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Flooding rains on Friday spread farther south along the Australian east coast, forcing thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes in Victoria state and the island state of Tasmania.

Some towns were all but abandoned as major flood alerts were issued for five rivers in Victoria and residents were evacuated from three towns in northwest Tasmania where an entire summer's average rain fall was recorded in a single day, authorities said.

The overall cost to Australia's 1.3 trillion Australian dollar ($1.29 trillion) economy from the Queensland floods could amount to as much as $13 billion, or 1 percent of gross domestic product, if infrastructure damage is severe, JPMorgan economist Stephen Walters wrote in a research report.

Some economists are already trimming the forecasts for economic growth this year. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has cut its forecast to 3 percent from 3.3 percent. JP Morgan Securities cut its prediction to 3.3 percent from 3.7 percent.

The effects are being felt as far away as China, where prices for the coal used in steelmaking are on the rise and hampering government efforts to control rising inflation. The deluge has hit mines that provide much of the global supply of coal, forcing giants like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Anglo American to rely on a legal clause that allows them out of contracted sales in the case of natural disasters or other unforeseen catastrophes.

Contract prices for steelmaking coal have been set at $225 a ton (0.9 metric tons) in the first quarter of 2010 but are forecast by analysts to rise to around $300 a ton later this year because of the flooding.

Analysts at research and stock brokerage firm CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets predicted that floods would remove 11 million tons (10 million metric tons) of Australian steelmaking coal from the world's supply in the first three months of the year.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science, the federal government's main forecaster on the farming and mining industries, said the flood would put upward pressure on international food and energy costs although it is too early to calculate Australia's export losses.

____

McGuirk reported from Canberra. Associated Press business writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: After massive flooding, Brisbane begins cleanup

  1. Closed captioning of: After massive flooding, Brisbane begins cleanup

    >> and now to australia, where the people of brisbane are getting their first look of what's left behind . nbc's ian williams is there.

    >> reporter: brisbane 's big cleanup as begun as the flood water receded, so residents returned to the muddied shefls of their home.

    >> it's obliterated everything in the house.

    >> reporter: 71-year-old marge had seen it before, her home swamped in the last big flood 36 years ago.

    >> this one seems to be more destructive.

    >> reporter: her family helped clear what was left of her belongings. the most painful loss for nixon, the toys she had accumulated over the years from children and grandchildren.

    >> if you don't have a sense of humor, you crack up.

    >> reporter: just up the road, shane long had only moved into his house last week.

    >> we put carpets down last thursday and friday.

    >> reporter: all across the city, residents are returning to scenes like this, and discovering there's very little they can salvage. some 35,000 homes were affected and 30 of brisbane 's suburbs inundated. many areas are still isolated. the waters still too high for residents to return. these men braved the remaining water, having left all their possessions on the second floor of their home, thinking this would be safe. it wasn't.

    >> looks like a total loss .

    >> reporter: the local economy has taken a huge hit. farmers returned to fields littered with dead sheep. though these cows got their first good meal in five days. back at marge nixon's house, more volunteers came to lend a hand. here they call it the queensland spirit, and there's been plenty of that today, determined to clean up and rebuild this flood devastated city. ian williams ,

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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Map: Australia floods

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