BRISBANE, Australia – An elderly man stood beside the muddy water inundating his neighborhood, the tops of road signs the only evidence that 24 hours earlier the area had been a busy junction in Brisbane's Fairfield neighborhood.
I expected, despair, anger even.
Simon Balmer / NBC News
Kayakers take to the flooded streets of Milton, a suburb of Brisbane, Australia.
Instead there was a smile: "I'm King Canute," he said, referring to the 11th century Viking king who legend said could command the tides. "There's no turning this back."
A little further along the road I met Catherine Dalton. She was standing beside her water-logged house, a frustrated look on her face. On seeing me, she brightened, and I soon realized why.
"Gotta save the barbie," she announced, recruiting me to help carry her substantial barbecue to a friend's house on higher ground across the street.
There's no doubting the severity of the floods in Australia's third largest city, even though they didn't quite peak Thursday as high as had been feared.
About 30 of Brisbane's suburbs have been inundated, affecting an estimated 35,000 homes, many of which will never be habitable again, even after the water recedes.
Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh has called it the worst natural disaster in the history of the state, possibly in Australian history.
Floods have been sweeping across Queensland since early December. The latest phase of the flooding hit the southeast part of the state and killed at least 14 people, with dozens still missing. The death toll is expected to rise.
Yet in spite of all this, there is tremendous resolve – and humor, much of it of the darker ilk – amid tragedy.
Simon Balmer / NBC News
Residents look at the flooded streets of Milton, a suburb of Brisbane.
Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard called it the "Queensland spirit" when I met her Wednesday. I didn't take that too seriously at the time, but after two days traveling around the state's water-logged capital, I can see what she was getting at.
On one street corner a dive shop put out fresh signs: "Learn to dive now!" it invited passing motorists.
While in another district where several factories and a stadium were under water, a small group bemoaned that the floods represented an attack on the Australian way of life.
"It's taken out the footy stadium and the brewery. How can we recover from this?" one man asked me. Just down the cordoned off street was one of the city's main sports stadiums, across the road from the Castlemaine Brewery, purveyor of “XXXX,” one of Brisbane's most famous beers.
Across the city, suburban roads have become rivers. On Thursday the new waterways were plied by kayaks, small boats, as well as rescue teams – lifeguards, more used to patrolling the beach – looking for those stranded in their homes.
Most people did evacuate, as advised, before the peak flood hit, but some did stay. We witnessed a rescue team bringing to dry ground a young woman and her boyfriend, who had thought they could sit out the flood. A silly decision really, but nobody seemed to hold it against them.
Ian Williams / NBC News
Rescue workers prepare to take to the flooded streets of Milton, a suburb of Brisbane.
"No power, no phone – and then the beer ran out. It was getting pretty boring," the woman told me.
It will take a long time for Brisbane – and Queensland – to recover, but the prime minister is right. There is spirit here. They will bounce back.