Brisbane, Australia (CNN) — Three quarters of the state of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone after torrential rain threatened the worst flooding in the state capital in 37 years.
Ten people were confirmed dead in flash flooding Tuesday which swept through the town of Toowoomba, about 125 kilometers (80 miles) west of Brisbane, on Monday afternoon.
The wall of water came without warning, overturning cars and swamping homes. More than 24 hours later, 78 people remained missing.
“It was almost like a movie scene — I went to a car park, it’s a council car park — and we had cars stacked on top of each other,” Toowoomba regional councilor Joe Ramia told the national broadcaster, ABC.
The deluge was compared to an “inland tsunami” which came with little or no warning despite weeks of rain.
The flood alert spread to the Queensland capital of Brisbane Tuesday with authorities warning that more than 30 suburbs were at risk of flooding, with water threatening 6,500 homes.
“This flood event continues to develop and change at a frightening pace,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said.
“As more rain continues to fall, local and state-level disaster management personnel are working to ensure the preparedness and safety of the community,” she said.
Evacuation centers were filling up Tuesday night as residents heeded advice to seek shelter away from affected suburbs.
The wave of water that devastated Toowoomba was moving through the Lockyer Valley where it was set to feed into the Wivenhoe Dam, built after the 1974 floods to prevent a similar disaster.
Heavy rains have already filled the dam to capacity and authorities are releasing water at staged intervals to release the pressure. That water is flowing into the already swollen Brisbane River. High tides predicted for Wednesday are expected to push the river’s water levels even higher before peak Thursday.
The predicted flooding in Brisbane follows a deluge further north that swamped the city of Rockhampton, 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Brisbane in early January.
Authorities are warning that the flood may exceed levels set in 1974, when the banks of the Brisbane River burst, flooding thousands of homes and killing 14 people.
Residents in low-lying areas were being urged to move to higher ground Tuesday.
Steve Cook, a resident of the inner-city Brisbane suburb of West End, spent the afternoon loading his family’s belongings into vehicles to be taken away from the flood zone.
“It’s pretty chaotic on the streets at the moment,” he said. “The streets are almost blocked with four wheel drives and utilities and everyone is desperately packing their belongings into cars to try to get away before the flood peaks tomorrow or tonight.”
By late Tuesday, the water was just one meter (3 feet) from his doorstep, one street away from the banks of the Brisbane River.
“It’s still creeping up and it’s still getting worse. On the predictions for peak tide tomorrow, we’re expecting it’ll go up another two and a half meters,” he said.
Long queues formed at centers where sandbags were being distributed and boat owners scrambled to move their vessels to safety beyond the Brisbane River in Moreton Bay.
“We’re just watching the river now and we’ve seen jetties come past, all sorts of things just floating down the river. It’s amazing,” said Desire Gralton, who lives in the ground-floor apartment of a four-story building in the Brisbane suburb on New Farm on the Brisbane River.
She and her family moved personal belongings, photographs and documents to their car outside after stacking their belongings in order of importance — the most valuable items piled high on top of furniture they were resigned to losing.
“We’re expecting it to come through about one meter through our apartment. So we’re trying to move everything higher than that and hope for the best,” she said. “If the flood comes into our level, we’ll all lose our electricity. So pretty much everyone would have to be evacuated.”