Australia battles spreading floodwaters

Hundreds more evacuated from areas at risk, but relief in Wagga Wagga as flood barriers limit damage to city centre.

    Approximately 9,000 people were evacuated from the city of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales [Reuters]

    Hundreds more people have been evacuated from Australia's flood-hit southeast, but flood barriers in the city of Wagga Wagga have so far held firm, saving the central business district from the rising waters of the Murrumbidgee River.

    About 600 people were ordered to leave their homes in Griffith on Wednesday, northwest of Wagga Wagga, as floodwaters threatened the low-lying New South Wales town of 16,000 people.

    A state emergency services spokesman told ABC radio it could become isolated.

    "There is a very significant flood emergency there. There is the potential for that flood emergency in Griffith to continue for a couple of weeks and a large number of people have been evacuated in the last 24 hours,"  James McTavish said.

    "We're hopeful though that the preparations that we're putting in place, today in particular, will protect more of Griffith and surrounds."

    The evacuation order came as a severe weather warning was issued for Sydney, the south coast, and the Illawarra and Hunter regions of New South Wales with heavy rain forecast that could lead to flash flooding.

    Floods have hit three eastern states this week, sweeping two men to their deaths after they attempted to cross waterways in cars, inundating hundreds of homes and causing millions of dollars in damage.

    Nine thousand people were evacuated from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales's largest inland city, on Tuesday as the surging Murrumbidgee threatened to breach its levee.

    While around 240 homes in the north of the town were damaged, some with water up to the roof, many more in the centre were spared after the river peaked just below the levee limit.

    Some residents were given the all-clear to return home Wednesday, although parts of the town remained under water.

    Red Cross national emergency services manager Andrew Coghlan warned flood victims to brace themselves for a long road ahead.

    "People need to prepare themselves for the challenge of not only cleaning up and repairing damage to their property but also overcoming the disruption caused to family life and the community," he said.

    'Long, hard journey'

    Barry O'Farrell, New South Wales' premier, said it would be weeks or months before the real cost of the crisis was known while Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister, warned of a "long, hard journey of recovery".

    "As a federal government we'll keep working with our state counterparts and local communities to support them during this difficult time," said Gillard, who travelled to Wagga Wagga on Wednesday to see the destruction for herself.

    "As a nation we've shown that we don't leave people behind, that we continue to show our generosity and support to our fellow Australians when they're in times of need."

    Around New South Wales more than 13,000 people have been asked to leave their homes due to flooding, with hundreds of properties inundated and a number of rural communities isolated by the rising waters.

    Flooding has also hit rural regions in the state of Victoria with nervous residents of the town of Nathalia hoping an emergency levee built to protect 170 homes will hold as a creek keeps rising.

    Eastern Australia was hit by devastating floods in early 2011 which claimed more than 30 lives, flooded thousands of

    homes and left vast swathes of the country swamped, including the Queensland capital Brisbane.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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