Flood waters inundate a suburb on the Brisbane River, 12 Jan 2011
Flood waters inundate a suburb on the Brisbane River, 12 Jan 2011

Australia's third-largest city is being swamped by flood waters that have killed at least 22 people across the country's northeast since last month.

Scores of residents in Brisbane are taking shelter in evacuation centers to avoid the onslaught of the swollen Brisbane River, the waterway that cuts through the heart of the capital of Queensland state. The river, which began overflowing Tuesday, has torn boats away from their moorings and sent them floating aimlessly through the city.  

Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newsome says nearly 20,000 homes will be flooded by Thursday, when the river is expected to reach its peak.

Earlier this week, a flash flood washed over the northeastern town of Toowomba, killing 12 people and leaving 67 others missing.    

More than 40 cities and towns in Queensland have been submerged since late December, due to torrential rains caused by a disruptive weather pattern known as La Nina.  More than 200,000 people have been affected by the flooding, which is Australia's worst in 50 years.

The high water has also cut road and rail lines, damaged farmland and virtually shut down the state's major coal mining industry.  The cost of the recovery is expected to reach into the billions of dollars.