Brisbane Storms 1
© ABC News: Shelley Lloyd
Soldiers will help clear trees and debris from around power lines and roads
Brisbane has been declared a natural disaster zone as authorities scramble to respond to yesterday's violent storm, and the weather bureau has likened the storm to a Category 2 cyclone.

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the Federal Government will provide practical help to families affected by the storm, which caused damage across south-east Queensland and killed one person.

Ms Gillard has described the aftermath of last night's wild storm as a disaster of significant proportions, and has offered the Queensland Government help through the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

"Arrangements are triggered when expenditure on a crisis exceeds more than $240,000," she said.

She says the Australian Defence Force will be made available to help with the clean up if required, and Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has requested soldiers from the Enoggera Army Barracks to be made available.

Ms Gillard says it has obviously been a hugely difficult and frightening time for those affected. "I know the pressure on them must be really strong at the moment, surveying the wreckage of their house, surveying what used to be their garden, worrying about the future," she said. "We want to be there providing the support we can to get them through these difficult circumstances."

The military has responded to Cr Newman's request, sending 160 soldiers to help exhausted Energex workers clear trees and debris in chainsaw gangs, and from tomorrow 20 low-security prisoners will join the clean-up effort.

Cr Newman says support crews from across the region and northern New South Wales are also assisting in the relief effort. "But the simple fact is that the task is enormous," he said. "There are people coming from across south-east Queensland, there are people coming from across the border, there have also been SES volunteers from further north."

The Brisbane City Council is giving away tarpaulins to residents whose roofs have been damaged. They can be picked up at the corner of Upper Kedron and Samford roads at Ferny Grove until 8:00pm (AEST) tonight.

'Damage avoidable'

Ipswich Councillor Paul Tully says some of the storm damage could have been avoided, and is calling for a review of national building codes. "The code is implemented at a national level, but it operates in all states and territories of Australia," he said.

Brisbane Storms 2
© User submitted: Geoff Ingram
Traffic backs up as it slows to avoid debris on the road outside Ferny Grove High School
"Through the Local Government Association of Queensland I'll be pursuing the need to look at whether or not the code should be enhanced to take into account the problems that we experienced."

More than 40,000 homes are still blacked out, but Energex is hoping half of those will be reconnected by tonight. Rain has slowed repair work and Energex has called on other power companies to help. Some residents at The Gap say they had trouble reaching the SES call centre last night.

Premier Anna Bligh has acknowledged that the system was overwhelmed.

"There is some difficulty for people who don't have their phone coverage contacting the SES but SES had to prioritise those services that were critical to life and limb overnight," she said. "They're out there doorknocking today and assisting people wherever they can."

Opposition MP Ted Malone says the call centre was overwhelmed yesterday, just as it was during the Mackay flood earlier this year. "Being able to set up a call centre that would be able to cope with the amount of damage that we've seen in Brisbane would be very difficult," he said.

"But maybe the Government needs to look at other ways of delivering a call centre under the circumstances. I'm not sure what the answers to that are but it's probably not good enough that we've got a call centre and an emergency number to ring that unfortunately there is nobody there to answer."

More wet weather

SES volunteers are currently responding to more than 1,000 jobs in Brisbane, but no more storms are forecast at this stage. But Geoff Doueal from the weather bureau says the rain is expected to continue until at least Friday.

"[The] forecast is for periods of rain in Brisbane for today and Tuesday, [we are] likely to see it probably getting a bit heavier tonight and through Tuesday," he said. "Then we are expecting the rain to ... clear a little bit early Wednesday but then we are expecting further thunderstorms to occur Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon as well."

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is helping the Queensland Department of Communities to check on the worst-affected residents. Red Cross Queensland's executive director Greg Goebel says emergency workers have been going door-to-door.

"The reports I've had back this afternoon tell me that there are people out there who are very distressed," he said. "I think the enormity is just starting to set in. And in a couple of cases people have been openly crying and coming up and sharing their burden."

Tap water danger

Authorities are warning residents at The Gap not to drink the tap water. The roof of the Gap reservoir has collapsed into the water supply, and it is feared there could be some contamination. People are advised to boil their tap water or buy bottled water.