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ABC News

Fears prolonged floods after COVID will take toll on residents' mental health in regional NSW and Victoria

The cumulative effect of prolonged flooding after COVID-19 lockdowns is creating high levels of distress in border communities, according to a health expert.

The riverside towns of Echuca and Moama, on the NSW-Victorian border, are now in their third week of major flooding.

Water along the Murray River has receded slightly during that time, but some properties and caravan parks are still inundated.

Cynthia Opie, the executive director of community services at Echuca Regional Health, which also services Moama, says teams overseeing the long-term recovery of the floods are reporting unusual levels of distress.

"What they've told me is that they normally see the levels of distress that they're identifying with this particular flood in a bushfire," she said.

"In a bushfire there's a lot of distress — people's houses are burnt to the ground."

Ms Opie said people were responding differently because the crisis followed years of lockdowns.

"The impact of that on people's emotional wellbeing was already there and hasn't really gone away yet," she said.

"To have a flood inundation on top of that, what we've seen and identified is that the rates of crisis for people has been that little bit compounded.

"What we're seeing is a cumulative … response of stress."

'I was pretty lucky'

Further north, the community of Forbes is assessing the damage now that the Lachlan River has receded.

The main street has reopened, reconnecting the north and south of the town.

Forbes resident Grant Nicholson's home was inundated by knee-height water.

"I was pretty lucky — I got most things out," he said.

"Tomorrow we'll start dismantling the furniture that's got to come out of here, because it will be all new floor coverings, new kitchen.

"There's still water through the front sheds — it's an absolute swamp in the backyard." 

Focus shifts west

The focus on the Lachlan River is shifting downstream, where State Emergency Service and Rural Fire Service crews have been working frantically over the past day to repair damaged levees.

Sector commander Gareth Sutton said holes had been plugged in the Bedgerabong area, but there were fears for the bank around Corinella, where helicopters were continuing to drop sandbags to volunteers.

In the meantime, Australian Defence Force personnel are being airlifted to the rural Waroo area to help residents prepare. 

"We've got all the stuff down there but no people," Mr Sutton said.

Further afield, a B-double truck has been called in to transport more than 30 pallets of sandbags to Condobolin, where a near-record peak could hit in about a week.

"We're playing the patience game," Mr Sutton said.

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