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Canberra's stormwater drains 'unable to cope with major rain events', report warned

By Clare Sibthorpe, Jake Evans and Andrew Bell, Monday February 26, 2018 - 17:43 EDT
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The RUC at Turner was drenched in floodwater on Sunday - ABC

A report warning Canberra's storm drains would not cope with a major rain event was published just weeks before a deluge brought parts of the city to a standstill and some residents' homes were flooded.

The found new suburbs and multi-story developments in existing suburbs were putting extra pressure on Canberra's stormwater system.

"There is an increased risk that the stormwater infrastructure in many established areas of Canberra will be unable to cope with major rain events," the report says.

"This is because the stormwater network has not been augmented to help manage increased or more concentrated flows."

In the wake of Sunday's downpour, referred to as a "one-in-a-100-year weather event" by the Bureau of Meteorology, Canberra Liberals MLA Nicole Lawder wanted to know if the Government was neglecting basic services.

"Existing stormwater assets and stormwater infrastructure may need to be reviewed to make sure it can still cope with the demand," she said.

But the Government said the Opposition was jumping to conclusions and the report was not talking about rain events of such a large scale.

"I certainly know that there are recommendations from the auditor-general's report into our water assets. The advice to me is those are unrelated," City Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris said.

More than average monthly rainfall fell in hours

Emergency services were kept busy responding to 250 wet weather jobs on Sunday, as the territory copped a month's worth of rain in a matter of hours.

Canberra Airport recorded 64 millimetres in the 24hrs — much of which fell within the space of an hour — a downpour that only happens every 20 or so years.

But ACT and NSW Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Rob Taggart said weather gauges further north and west, such as at Woolshed Creek and Sullivan Creek, recorded as much as 165 millimetres in the 48 hours to 10:00am on Monday.

"At Woolshed Creek further to the north we are talking even maybe a one-in-100-year event," Mr Taggart said.

Mr Taggart said the rainfall in and around Canberra was considered an extreme event, which referred to more than 50 millimetres falling within 60 minutes and lasting for several hours.

"[In] this part of the world those rainfall rates very rarely occur," he said.

He said the extreme weather was due to tropical air mass, which Canberra does not often experience, interacting with a cold front on Sunday morning.

The average rainfall for February at the Canberra Airport gauge is 56.4 millimetres, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Insurance may not cover some motorists

Insurance Council of Australia spokesman Campbell Fuller warned motorists who knowingly drove through floodwaters or put themselves in danger may not be covered for damage to their vehicles.

"If you're a motorist and you drive through a flooded road or floodwaters, and the road has been noted to be closed due to flooding, the insurer is not going to take a kind light to that," he said.

At the Australian National University (ANU), where major construction works are underway, 11 excavators were submerged in water and are likely write-offs.

The campus was closed on Monday after a creek on the campus broke its banks.

ANU chief operating officer Chris Grange said the university would reopen on Tuesday, but would face a costly and lengthy clean-up.

He said in addition to the damage to the 11 excavators, the first floor of the Chifley Library was also flooded.

"A lot of the stuff in the lower ground floor of Chifley Library were books that are not common, a lot of old serials as well," Mr Grange said.

"It will possibly be very difficult to replace some of those but it's too early to pass an overall assessment."

Emergency services responded to 250 calls for help

ACT Rural Fire Service Chief Officer Joe Murphy said crews worked tirelessly to complete all calls for help received on Sunday night, but were prepared for a busy few days as the clean-up continued.

"There'll be a big mop up over next few days — a lot will be following up from people who said they don't need help right now," he said.

ACT State Emergency Service Chief Officer Georgia Whelan said police undertook a number of rescues for people trapped in cars.

"We did have quite a surge of requests for support — I'm pleased to say we were able to respond to that in a timely manner," she said.

But Sunday's downpour was welcome relief for regional farmers in Goulburn and Braidwood.

Farmer Mark Horan has 22 dams on his property — only four of which had water in them on Friday.

"This 67mm of rain has put four foot of water into those dams which has really got us out of jail," he said.

Though he warned farmers still needed more rain to set them up for winter.

"I hate to sound like a whingeing farmer, but things aren't over yet. But they're certainly on the up," Mr Horan said.

North Canberra suffers worst damage

Residents in O'Connor were counting the cost of repairs as their homes flooded on Sunday afternoon.

One resident said by the time she and her partner saw the flood warning, it was already too late.

"When we looked out the window it had already flooded, and it came much quicker than we thought it would," she said.

"It started coming out of the drains, it started coming out of the cupboards — we just couldn't stop it.

"It was too fast, so we got out. We've got a little one, we don't want to mess around."

Another man, who moved into his home at the start of the month after relocating from Adelaide with his parter, was left devastated.

"I opened the door and the whole room just flooded," he said.

"Unbelievable. Shattering, absolutely shattering. Certainly not how we'd like to spend our first few weeks here."

A number of roads remain closed on Monday, with the list available at the ACT Government's .


© ABC 2018

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