By David Claughton, Michael Condon, Sally Bryant from Sydney 2000
Communities in central-west, south-west and far-west NSW are bracing themselves for more flooding with the weather forecast predicting up to 100 mm of rain in many already flood-stricken areas on Wednesday and Thursday.
The damage bill from flooding has climbed to $500 million as more crops go underwater on the Murrumbidgee, Castlereigh and Lachlan rivers in NSW.
While visiting Wagga Wagga today the NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Minister Steven Whan declared a Natural Disaster in another six of the state’s shires, as floodwaters continue to sweep across southern and western NSW.
Following heavy rain and floods, Natural Disaster declarations have been made today for Wagga Wagga, Parkes, Warren, Upper Lachlan, Narromine and Gilgandra.
This in on top of areas declared this weekend, the Mid-Western Region, Weddin, Wellington, Warrumbungle, Cootamundra, Coonamble, Harden, Young, Gundagai, Cabonne and Dubbo regions.
Since the weekend, several parts of NSW have been declared a Natural Disaster. This brings the total number of areas declared disasters since the October floods to 34.
The SES has received more than 1,300 requests for assistance and carried out 67 flood rescues, including medical transfers and rescuing people who have driven into floodwaters.
Up to 1,800 residents have been evacuated ahead of rising waters, particularly in north Wagga Wagga and Coonamble. Another 4000 people are isolated by floodwaters. Phil Campbell from the SES says the good news is that the levy at Coonamble held but water is still rising at Wagga.
He says “there are health concerns from septic overflow and dead livestock”.
“So far 14 rivers have been issued with flood warnings but that may be added to over the week”.
The forecast for later in the week is also not good with flash flooding in the next few days, while the slow movement of the water threatens areas downstream over the next few weeks.
He says with the extra rain being forecast they expect further releases of substantial amounts of water and the Bureau of Meteorology is incorporating them into their forecasting for river heights.
“We expect rivers with high flows will rise again and they could be significant (rises).”
“I am asking communities across NSW, particularly in the south, to prepare for flooding, rural property owners should be stocking up on food, fuel and stock feed.”
Phil Campbell from the SES says “there are a lot of properties that are isolated. We making sure we’ve got enough volunteers, resources and helicopters for the next few days.”
The Federal Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig says as a result of the 34 regions with disaster declarations, financial assistance has been offered to farmers in other parts of the state also dealing with damage to property and crops from recent flooding and rain.
It includes concessional loans of up to $130,000 for small businesses and primary producers.
Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig says further relief could be extended as new disaster areas are declared.
Minister Steve Whan is touring around the flood affected areas of the state.
He says he is talking to the Federal Government and the NSW Farmers Associatino about “an extension of exceptional circumstances assistance”.
He is also looking at other ways to help, but he doesn’t think it is appropriate for Federal or State Government to underwrite or insure the value of crops or underwrite the feed pool prices but he will look at the issue if it is raised with him.
He says mental health is a big issue and support workers are out and about.
He is expecting community meetings will be arranged to assist people to get through and provide advice and support.
The RTA says the situation with the roads is easing this morning, but there are still major highway’s closed in the in the state’s west, and around Wagga.
The Lachlan Valley Way, 28km north of Cowra, is blocked by flooding.
The Newell Highway is closed at several points around Dubbo, Coonabarabran, Warren and Parkes.
Sections of the Castlereagh Highway are closed between Gilgandra and Walgett as well as Dunedoo to Mendoorin.
The Sturt Highway is closed in both directions west of Wagga.