Clean-up begins as NSW floodwaters recedeBy Tom Nightingale, Thursday January 31, 2013 - 08:54 EDT
As floodwaters begin to recede in parts of northern New South Wales, hundreds of people are turning their attention to recovery.
Vast areas of land are underwater in the state, but many communities appear to have escaped the worst of the floods.
For those along the Clarence and Wilsons rivers, near Grafton and Lismore, the focus is now turning to recovery.
Evacuees from Grafton and Maclean have been told they can return home but an evacuation order is still in place for Ulmarra.
Edwina Baird owns the pub at Ulmarra, and today she watched the Clarence River drop.
She is exhausted from days of lifting heavy sandbags, but the work is not over yet.
"Cleaning up yards, hosing down pavements - the council are here hosing the street now, but generally it's just going to be a bit of a 'take things down if they've got them up high'," she told PM.
For the first time in 120 years, a couple of houses and possibly the local police station have been inundated, although the scale of damage is thought to be minor.
"Everyone is very relieved," Ms Baird said.
"There might be one or two people who are a little bit disappointed and going, 'oh, didn't think it'd be that high', but in general everyone is [happy].
"There may have been a bit of loss of stock, but I think we're pretty lucky, compared to everyone in Queensland.
"I think we all go, 'yes, well, that was lucky. Lucky we're not in Bundaberg'."
Clarence Valley Council Mayor, Richie Williamson, says the water fell short of topping the levees at Grafton and Maclean, but it did top the levee at Ulmarra.
"Ulmarra has taken a bullseye hit, and just about every other resident who is on the floodplain outside the levee systems has taken a direct hit," he said.
"I flew the area today to get a bit of reconnaissance about the recovery, and I have seen property after property inundated.
"I've seen house after house inundated. This is a big event that should not be understated."
As the clean-up begins, a new warning is out.
There are fears some floodwaters have been contaminated with sewage, and that people cleaning up could be infected.
Doctor David Durheim from New South Wales Health is telling people with cuts or abrasions to avoid the water completely, and for others to wear gloves or wash hands after contact.
"Anything that's come into contact with floodwaters should be potentially considered as contaminated with sewage, and that includes all sorts of things - things in the garden, utensils that people might be using, things that people are actually tidying up - all of this could potentially be contaminated with sewage," he said.
As the water recedes, thousands of people are still isolated.
The State Emergency Service on Wednesday received the first calls for emergency food and medical help.
The SES estimates some people could be isolated for up to a week if they are in rural areas where roads or bridges have been cut.
© ABC 2013
More breaking news
A search will resume for a man who went missing in floodwaters near Kyogle during heavy rainfall that hit the New South Wales coast and Sydney.
Witnesses saw a man being swept away after his vehicle went into floodwaters near Lismore in far north New South Wales, police say, as a heavy downpour and strong winds hit the state's coast.
After receiving record-breaking rain in June and July, parts of western Queensland have received their best August rain in nearly 20 years.