Residents in regional New South Wales have spent an anxious night waiting and preparing for the worst as flooding continues.
Almost a dozen shires have been declared natural disaster areas and flood warnings remain on 13 rivers.
More than 1,500 people have spent the night in alternative accommodation because of the flooding and forecasters say the situation in the south-west of the state will be aggravated by heavy rain later in the week.
Premier Kristina Keneally will visit the flooded regions today with Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan.
Their first stop will be Wagga Wagga, where homes have been evacuated as the Murrumbidgee River threatens the town.
About 1,200 residents in Coonamble in the central west of the state have been ordered to evacuate as the Castlereagh River swells.
State Emergency Service (SES) spokesman Phil Campbell says many residents in Wagga Wagga have packed up and left.
“In Wagga in particular, with a flood height prediction of around 10 metres and the crest of the levee there at about 9.9, there is a very real possibility that the water may overtop the levee,” he said.
“People do understand that and have accordingly evacuated.”
Wagga Wagga’s mayor Wayne Geale says it is the worst flooding he has seen in decades.
He says several hundred people have left their homes, roads have been blocked, and there has been widespread sandbagging.
“About 300 [people] have left their homes at north Wagga, so it’s just a skeleton town at the moment,” he said.
“In Gumly Gumly there will be more to leave there, and east Wagga is mainly industrial area, so it’s all sandbagged up.”
The Castlereagh River at Coonamble is expected to peak at 5.5 metres today.
John Griffiths, the general manager of the town’s council, says while around 800 people have left their homes, many are not too concerned.
“They really aren’t that worried. The levy has been in place for some 38 years now, but there hasn’t been any real indication that the levee has really serious faults that it would collapse,” he said.
“I hasten to add that there have been studies carried out on it that there are a couple of suspect places in the levee.”
The SES says most residents have cooperated with the order to evacuate.
Mr Campbell says for many, it is not the first time they have been forced to leave their homes.
“The people in that particular part of Coonamble were evacuated earlier this year at a similar flood event,” he said.
“The mood of the people is one of support for the move; it is something they do understand is a necessity given the current flood situation and given the unpredictability of further flooding.”
Parts of Gundagai near Wagga remain underwater, and Phillip McMurray from the Gundagai Shire Council says the damage bill is likely to be in the millions.
“The town at the moment is completely underwater, all the flats between north and south Gundagai [are] inundated,” he said.
“The water was backed up to the laneway backing on to the main street, all our golf course, caravan park are underwater, there’s water I guess lapping on the edge of the town and basically we’ve got roads cut off all over the place.”
More rain expected
The weather bureau says it is likely the floods will be aggravated by heavy rain predicted for later in the week.
Senior hydrologist Hugh Bruist says heavy rain is predicted for Wednesday or Thursday, but the catchments are already full.
“It’s fair to say that all these catchments that are currently in flood will all be affected,” he said.
“It would be nice to think that whatever rain does fall comes behind the existing peaks but there’s a good chance that rain will fall on top of the areas that are currently in flood and aggravate the current situation.”
For information on road closures contact the Public Information Inquiry Centre on 1800 227 228.
For emergency flood and storm assistance, contact the State Emergency Service on 132 500.