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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Thousands flee NSW floods

Thousands flee NSW floods

5:00AM Sunday January 06, 2008

Thousands of residents from the northern New South Wales town of Kyogle were evacuated from their homes as floodwaters peaked at near-record levels - leading to parts of the New South Wales north coast being declared natural disaster areas.

The Bureau of Meteorology said an 18.1m flood peak was recorded on the Richmond River at Kyogle yesterday, the second-highest flood peak on record, after pelting rain.

"We evacuated the town and surrounding areas about mid-morning before the peak and are continuing to monitor the situation," a State Emergency Services (SES) spokeswoman said. Concerns then turned to Casino, where the Richmond River was expected to peak next, she said.

Some parts of northern NSW got 300mm of rain in three hours overnight and NSW Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees declared the Tweed and Kyogle local government areas natural disaster zones after visiting the region yesterday.

"We are still considering natural disaster declarations for the Richmond valley and Lismore, depending on whether there is further rainfall," a spokesman for the minister said.

The declaration triggers a range of assistance for residents and business operators in the region, including low-interest loans and other financial help. Some councils, clubs and community groups will also be eligible for assistance to repair damaged property.

Meanwhile Townsville and Cairns were bracing for widespread flooding, with Cyclone Helen predicted to move into the Gulf of Carpentaria today. Disaster experts expect heavy monsoonal rain to cause widespread flooding as far south as Townsville, according to the Australian newspaper.

Townsville Mayor Tony Mooney joined an aerial survey of the area as part of disaster management preparations and said he had been briefed by disaster experts that the region faced a battering from heavy weather.

The SES is warning coastal residents in the Gulf to take precautions, with an active severe weather system causing abnormally high seas and large waves. Cyclone Helen was yesterday a category 1 system and about 265km west-southwest of Darwin, moving east-northeast at 20km/h.

Destructive winds with gusts to 130km/h were expected to hit coastal and island communities between Darwin and the Daly River mouth by early today.

In the Gold Coast hinterland, flash flooding closed roads and isolated homes. Not all the weather news was bad. Brisbane's dams gratefully accommodated up to two months' supply of water in this drought-plagued region, though the bad weather swung away later.


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