Authorities declared two flooded farming regions in southwestern Australia natural disaster zones Monday as residents in one town nervously watched a rising river in hopes that it wouldn’t break its levees.
Parts of Coonamble and Bourke districts in New South Wales, several hundred miles northwest of Sydney, have been isolated by floodwaters since heavy rains last week. While meteorologists said the worst of the rain was over, rivers and reservoirs were still rising from the extra water, and Coonamble’s Castlereagh River was expected to peak later Monday.
New South Wales State Premier Kristina Keneally declared the two districts disaster zones Monday, entitling them to state emergency funds including loans and subsidies. “That will provide much needed longer term help to residents, primary producers, business owners and councils,” Keneally said while on a tour of Coonamble. “It will help them to rebuild.”
On Sunday, emergency officials advised 1,200 residents in Coonamble to relocate to safer parts of town away from the rising Castlereagh River. People rode away in motorboats and ranchers herded horses and cattle through the deep water to higher ground. Brown water submerged main roads into town.
The Castlereagh River was expected to peak at about 17.4 feet (5.3 meters), according to the Bureau of Meteorology. The levee stands 19 feet (5.9 meters) high in most places; in others it is as low as 17.7 feet (5.4 meters).
Some of the 4,900 residents of the district, however, have refused to leave their properties. “I think they’ve seen the river up and down the last few days, and people don’t believe there is a threat,” Coonamble Mayor Tim Horan said Monday. “Once we get a peak, we’ll know what’s going on, but as far as we’re concerned, the evacuation order is still in place, and we still have to encourage people to stick by it.”
But longtime resident Ken Baker said he was confident the levees would hold, and refused to leave his house while his wife and daughter evacuated. “I know the river quite well,” he told Macquarie Radio.”I’ve lived here all my life. I’m quite certain in my own mind that I don’t need to evacuate.”
Bourke, a district with a population of about 4,400, was deluged by some of its heaviest rain in a decade, leaving dozens of properties cut off from roads and forcing some farmers to fly livestock to higher ground.
The Darling River is expected to overflow in Bourke by Thursday, causing further minor flooding as it swells from rainfall further upstream, the Bureau of Meteorology predicts.
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