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Australians clean up muddy sludge after floods; 16 killed

From Hilary Whiteman, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The search for survivors continues
  • Officials say 16 people are killed and 53 missing
  • Many work to clean up sludge and rebuild their lives

Brisbane, Australia (CNN) -- As the water continued to recede in parts of flood-battered Brisbane on Friday, wary Australians were hit with a new task: a massive clean-up.

Neighborhoods are coated in the muddy sludge the floodwaters left behind. And for some, the sludge has invaded their homes, destroying much of their belongings.

Sally Lynch was evacuated from her Brisbane home when the floods started, and returned to find it destroyed.

"The water came up to our rooftops so obviously our furniture and all our possessions are floating around like a washing machine around our house," Lynch said. 'It is total devastation. To be honest with you, I sat there and howled. But you can only howl for so long. I will be fine. I will keep on going."

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The discovery of a woman's body in Grantham in the Lockyer Valley brought the death toll to 16, said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. Fifty-three people are missing, Bligh said.

Emergency services and Australian military personnel stepped up the search for the missing in Queensland as authorities and residents tried to assess the damage caused by the state's worst flooding in decades.

Officials warned the cleanup will take months.

More than 20,000 homes were inundated after the normally subdued Brisbane River turned into a raging torrent as weeks of rain pushed it to more than 4 meters at high tide last week.

Residents in Brisbane were being urged not to enter floodwater because of the risk of illness after sewage plants along the river were inundated.

Sightseers were warned to stay clear of the Brisbane River or risk hampering emergency service operations.

The Brisbane River, which slices through the city, peaked Thursday at 4.6 meters (more than 15 feet), about a meter below predictions and below the level set by the last major flood in 1974.

Queensland police have arrested 10 people on 18 charges of looting. Nine of the incidents were in Brisbane and one in Ipswich. If convicted, offenders could face up to 10 years in prison.

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 then. So far, 70 towns and cities in Queensland have been affected by the flood, Bligh said.

CNN's Phil Black and John Raedler contributed to this report.

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