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Residents relieved as flood spares river towns

Wednesday January 30, 2013 - 16:39 EDT

Hundreds of people who were evacuated from homes in northern New South Wales have been given the all-clear to return home as floodwaters start to reside.

Vast areas of land are underwater in the state, but many New South Wales communities appear to have escaped the worst of the floods.

The level of water in flooded rivers is holding steady or receding across the north coast.

Evacuees from Grafton and Maclean have been told they can return home, but the State Emergency Service has urged people to check which roads are open before driving between towns.

Hydrographer Roger Patricks says the full impact of the flood might not be known for several days.

"Could be a matter of a couple of days to get down to a level where a lot of the local roads could probably be opened," he said.

An evacuation order is still in place for Ulmarra, but the SES says the worst of the flooding is over.

Hundreds of people were evacuated as a precaution last night as the Clarence River was predicted to peak above the flood levee.

About 750 people were told to evacuate in Maclean, as well as 190 people in nearby Harwood Island.

At 5:00am (AEDT), the weather bureau said the Clarence was peaking at 3.08 metres at Maclean - below the town's 3.3-metre levee.

Keith Dwyer from the Flood Water Centre says the Clarence River will stay at the 3.1 metre peak at Maclean for most of the day.

But he says that should not make residents nervous.

"If they are prepared for this 3.1 metre height, which they should be prepared because we had [anticipated] 3.4 metres earlier on," he said.

"So it's a matter of being patient I guess and waiting for it to subside."

The Clarence River peaked at Grafton, and while it was the worst flood on record for the city, the town's levee held back the floodwaters and a major disaster was averted.

The SES says no homes in the evacuation zone were inundated.

But the floodwaters have isolated thousands of people across eastern Australia and a natural disaster has been declared.

In Queensland, communities are also waiting for waters to recede to begin the clean-up.

Dozens of primary and high schools that have been isolated by the floodwaters will be closed today, and in some cases, also tomorrow.

The upriver town of Ulmarra, east of Grafton, is still isolated by flooding, as the Pacific Highway remains cut by floodwaters in the area.

But other roads have reopened and residents have been told they can return to parts of northern NSW.

The Pacific Highway is closed between Grafton and Ballina, but drivers can head via the Summerland Way to Casino and use the Bruxner Highway to bypass the area.

The manager of the New South Wales flood warning centre, Gordon McKay, says flood warnings remain in place for other parts of the state.

"We have a minor flood warning current for the Hunter," he said.

"For the Lower Richmond is a low-level major flooding (warning), and we're also looking at some floods in the Macintyre, Gwydir and Macleay Valleys.

"But I think given the size of this event, New South Wales got off relatively lightly compared to what is usually the case with ex-tropical cyclones in the state."

The Australian Bankers' Association says it will assist people affected by flooding across New South Wales.

Emergency relief packages will be offered to help families, business people and farmers.

Chief Executive of the Bankers Association, Steven Münchenberg says the support will be available from all banks.

"So whether you're with a major bank, a regional bank, some of the smaller banks, or international banks, they all have these sorts of packages available," he said.

"So if you are a bank customer and are worried about your finances, if you go to the Bankers Association website, there are numbers there for your bank to call so you can get through to the right person to help you."


© ABC 2013

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