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More Deaths Likely in Australian Flooding Disaster

People survey the damage after a flash flood tossed vehicles down a street in Toowomba, Australia, 10 Jan 2011

Officials in northeastern Australia say the death toll is likely to rise in the aftermath of a flash flood that washed over the town of Toowomba.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told reporters Tuesday that nine people have been killed in the disaster, most of them children, and said there are "grave concerns" for the 66 who remain missing. The town was struck without warning Monday by a wall of rushing water that state Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson described as an "inland instant tsunami."

Many residents scrambled to safety atop rooftops while cars were tossed like toys and submerged. Rescue operations resumed Tuesday after being suspended overnight due to bad weather.

Video clip: Australia floods

Evacuations have begun in the state capital, Brisbane, where the Brisbane River has overflowed its banks. Mayor Campbell Newman says at least 6,500 homes are expected to be inundated within the next few days.

The rising flood waters have forced officials to release water from the Wivenhoe Dam, built to protect Brisbane after devastating floods in 1974.

Queensland has been swamped by torrential rains that have submerged more than 40 cities and towns since late December. At least 18 people have been killed, and more than 200,000 have been affected by the flooding, Australia's worst in 50 years.

The disaster has cut road and rail lines, damaged farmland and virtually shut down Queensland's major coal mining industry, sending the cost of the recovery into the billions of dollars.