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Thousands stranded by Australian floods

AUSTRALIA: Thousands of Australians were evacuated from their homes or stranded as surging floodwaters swamped towns in the area’s worst deluge in 36 years, officials said Monday.

Parts of south-eastern New South Wales were declared natural disaster areas as swollen rivers spilled into the streets and water levels continued to rise, forcing the closure of major highways, state Premier Kristina Keneally said.

“We are anticipating that there may be additional flooding and the water may still be rising here in Wagga and as we see over the next few days those floodwaters move westward,” Keneally told reporters from the badly hit town.

About 3,000 properties were isolated and some 1,500 had been evacuated, according to the State Emergency Service.

A total of 34 New South Wales regions were now natural disaster zones, Keneally said, with 17 declarations issued in the past few days.

Wagga mayor Wayne Geale said it was the worst flooding he had seen since a major downpour in 1974.

“This is getting up to a height of ‘74, the big floods in ‘74, (when) it actually nearly breached the levee banks,” Geale told ABC radio. “But it’s not, I think it’s going to fall just short of that this time.”

State Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said with further rain expected later in the week, authorities would keep a close watch on the situation.

“In Wagga the levee is also looking very good but there are a lot of people that are isolated and it will be some days before at lot of the links are reopened,” he said.

About 170 soldiers had joined hundreds of SES volunteers in sandbagging and rescue efforts and Whan urged residents not to enter floodwaters, following the death of an elderly man whose car was swept away in the surge further north.

There had been 68 rescues, the SES said.

Whan said damage estimates had already hit the “tens of millions (of dollars) in some shires alone” with the total to be a significant figure given the large area affected.

Crop losses were also a major issue, and Whan said it was a harsh blow for farmers who had just emerged from 10 years of drought.

Sydney, Monday, AFP

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