River crests lower than expected; Brisbane flooding still devastating
Brisbane bracing for more flooding
NEW: 15 people dead, more than 70 are missing
"We are the ones that they knock down and we get up again," PM Bligh says
"Underneath every one of those roofs is a horror story," Bligh says
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Brisbane, Australia (CNN) -- The morning sun beamed Thursday on slowly receding flood waters after the Brisbane River peaked about a meter short of the 1974 flood record, but authorities cautioned that they had only begun to determine the damage done in Queensland's capital.
"This morning, thousands of people in southeast Queensland have awakened to the unbearable agony of their homes being devastated, their businesses, their workplaces being devastated and, for some people, they've seen both their workplaces and their homes washed away," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told reporters.
Queensland police confirmed a 15th death due to the flooding -- topping the toll exacted during the 1974 flood.
More than 70 people were missing. And officials predicted that the toll would rise as rescue workers are able to enter buildings that are currently submerged.
Satellite view Aerial views of Brisbane showed islands of roofs and treetops jutting from a sea of muddy brown water -- or stranded high-rises jutting starkly from murky river overflow.
"I could see hundreds of roofs yesterday and that's all I could see was those rooftops ... underneath every one of those roofs is a family, underneath every one of those roofs is a horror story," Bligh said about her flyover of the affected area.
The Brisbane, which slices through the center of its eponymous city, peaked at 4.6 meters (just over 15 feet) overnight, but could rise again when the tide turns in the afternoon.
Officials had predicted a crest at 5.2 meters -- and nearly 20,000 homes fully engulfed by the water.
But Bligh said 11,900 homes in Brisbane were fully flooded and 14,700 were partially flooded. In addition, about 2,500 businesses were fully inundated and another 2,500 were partially inundated, she said. Many of them will never again be habitable, she said.
Electricity was cut to 37 substations in the Central Business District, and 118,000 residences were without electricity. Temporary mobile phone towers were being erected to restore cell phone service, which was spotty or non-existent in many areas.
"As we weep for what we have lost and as we grieve for family and friends and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are -- we are Queenslanders," Bligh said. "We are the ones that they knock down and we get up again."
The flooding in Brisbane follows flooding elsewhere in the state. Soon after Christmas, water from torrential rains swamped the northern city of Rockhampton, 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Brisbane, triggering a massive recovery operation to rebuild the town. Those floodwaters have been sweeping toward the coasts since that time.
So far, 70 towns and cities in Queensland have been affected by the flood, Bligh said. "Either inundated or cut off from major supply lines and isolated for weeks."
Hydrologist Jeff Perkins told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that authorities hoped it proves to be the real peak.
"It's one of those ones where we have a rule that we don't call it a peak until we see it falling," he said. "What tends to happen is it steadies off. Once we see it steady we'll be pretty confident it's a peak."
Brisbane's mayor, Campbell Newman, cautioned residents to stay out of the water because raw sewage had swept from inundated water treatment plants and debris. Police said a large section of a floating public walkway in the New Farm suburb had broken loose and was traveling down river.
The 300-ton riverside walkway, described by Bligh as "a powerful symbol of our modern city, was eventually steered by a tug out of harm's way, Bligh said. "If it had broken loose, without any guidance, you can imagine the kind of damage it might have done. It was a very lucky save."
The question of whether to rebuild it will be addressed at a future date, she said.
The original River Walk was 850 meters long -- the breakaway section was 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) long.
The 1974 flood destroyed 6,000 homes, but officials pointed out that the city has grown since then.
As the flood waters rose on Wednesday, Brisbane residents scooped up flashlights and batteries, raided grocery store shelves for supplies and carted valuables away from the reach of rising waters as the region prepared for what Bligh described as "the worst natural disaster in our history."
Throughout Wednesday, emergency personnel ferried residents from low-lying suburbs. The numbers at evacuation centers swelled. Water had already swallowed the bottom levels of many houses and was lapping at the second floor.
A group of church workers knocked on doors, offering to help move belongings. No one refused.
"I was surprised by people coming in. I have to move all the stuff to upstairs to ensure its safety. But where I can go I don't know," said Hao Hu, as the church workers carried his belongings upstairs.
Outside, a man -- a stranger -- was in Hao's small courtyard, dismantling an air-conditioning unit to take the components upstairs.
Matt Corrigan and his roommates took their possessions to a friend's house -- but not fast enough.
"It was about 12 o'clock (Tuesday) when we started packing up as the water started coming up our driveway," he said. "We came back yesterday at 5:30 (p.m.) and our bottom floor had gone. The water was up past our waists and we waded into our house to grab a few other things we could find and had to hope for the best.
"We came back today and ... it's up to our second level," he said. "It's up to the window and it's still rising. We have no way of getting to our house and finding out how it is."
The impact has not been limited to flooding. Some places that remain dry have been isolated for more than two weeks, Bligh said. Medicines and other supplies have been ferried in by helicopter in some cases.
Most of the missing were in and around the city of Toowoomba, which was devastated Monday by what is being described as an "inland tsunami." Toowoomba is about 100 km (62 miles) west of Brisbane.