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Thousands cut off as rivers peak

Sunday February 24, 2013 - 16:42 EDT
ABC image
The Macleay River hit its peak of 7.1 metres in Kempsey this morning. - ABC

Thousands of residents on the New South Wales north coast remain cut off by floodwaters, though the worst of the crisis appears to be over.

Flood warnings are in place for 15 river systems from Sydney to the Queensland border.

Two people are confirmed dead as a result of the flooding, caused by a slow-moving low pressure system that has made its way down the eastern coast over the past few days.



In Kempsey floodwaters flowed over the levee protecting the town centre after the Macleay River reached its peak.

Some water made its way into low-lying areas of the CBD, but water levels in the town are now falling.

The majority of businesses in the town are closed and have been sandbagged.

Low-lying areas across the Macleay Valley have been evacuated and the Kempsey Mayor Liz Campbell says there are about 70 people in the Kempsey evacuation centre.

"A lot of them are visitors to town who have got stranded here so they are having a nice little visit in Kempsey town," she said.

About 10,000 people are now isolated in the Macleay Valley, including the coastal towns of Crescent Head and South West Rocks.

Local dairy farmer Sue McGinn, who is also a Kempsey councillor, says her farm is cut off by floodwaters on all sides.

Councillor McGinn says she is just one of many farmers who chose to ignore the evacuation order.

"I imagine if you didn't need to be here, you wouldn't hang around," she said.

"But unfortunately when you've got dairy cows and they need attending to, that's our job. We have to stay here and do our job."

At Clybucca, one father ignored police advice and braved the raging floodwaters in attempt to save his stranded family.

Jalcin Arisi says he thought the floodwaters were receding and tried to drive through in his ute, but the car stalled.

He climbed out the window and had to wade and swim through the waters before being rescued.

"Police advised me to wait til it calmed down. I said 'no, my family is in danger. I've got to get to my kids," he told the ABC.



Further south in Port Macquarie, the Hastings River also broke its banks, flooding low-lying homes and businesses in parts of the CBD and along the riverfront.

Areas including Settlement Point and the North Shore are isolated, and the SES expects them to remain cut off for the rest of the day.

Resident Neville Wolridge says the river is an amazing sight.

"The highest I've ever seen it, we've lived here a long while," he said.

Port Macquarie Hastings Mayor Peter Besseling says the floods have caused some damage to infrastructure and to the car ferry which accesses the North Shore residential area.

"One of the cables from the ferry has let lose and the ferry has been moored somewhere where it wouldn't usually be moored," he said.



Phil Campbell from the State Emergency Service says many people near Port Macquarie had to leave their homes for higher ground.

"The NSW SES does have flood boats, eight helicopters and other resources available to make sure we can look after those people," he said.

Meanwhile residents of Grafton are dealing with the second major flood to hit the town this year.

The Clarence River has reached its expected peak of 6.3 metres, about two metres shy of the level it reached less than a month ago.

Although buildings have been inundated in the town and road closures are expected, no evacuations have been necessary.

Properties are expected to be isolated elsewhere in the Clarence Valley as the flood moves downstream towards Yamba.



Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson has been on the Orara River today as residents are resupplied by boat, and says it is another blow.

"We are already on our knees from the flood just three or four weeks ago. This has not helped," he said.

"Council's infrastructure will be again be severely damaged. The primary industry areas of the sugar cane, the fishermen, the beef industry and the timber industry are going to be hit substantially."

The Hastings River peaked at 7.2 metres at Wauchope about 8:00pm yesterday, below the 1978 flood level.

Further south, the Manning River at Taree is expected to peak at major flood levels at 6:00pm, but below flood levels seen in 2011.

Evacuation warnings are in place for low-lying areas of Taree, Cundletown and Wingham.

The SES has received more than 4,000 calls for help across the state.

About 500 of those came from Sydney, after torrential rain and strong winds tore down the coast earlier this morning.

Thousands of people are without power, and dozens of homes have been damaged in Malabar, Narellan and Kiama.

Yesterday a man's body was .

Earlier, a 17-year-old boy was killed when he was swept into a stormwater drain at a golf course at Kew, south of Port Macquarie.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is urging people to stay away from floodwaters.

Ms Gillard says Australians have been hit hard by the two deaths in New South Wales.

"Particularly the news about the loss of Luke O'Neill, the 17-year-old doing something I think we can all imagine a 17-year-old and his mates doing," she said.

"Going after golf balls in floodwaters but such a dangerous thing, to see a young man lose his life like that is truly heartbreaking."

The weather also saw on Friday night.


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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