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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Rafqa Touma and Emily Wind

Moree assesses flood damage as the Murray River peaks in Echuca with more wet weather on the way

An aerial image of blocks of houses in Moree which are surrounded by brown flood waters. The roads and ground are not visible under the water, only the roofs of houses and some tree tops
Thousands of people were urged to evacuate Moree, in north-west New South Wales, before the town was inundated with flood waters. Photograph: Townlife/Facebook

A body believed to be that of a woman who went missing in flood waters in central-west New South Wales has been found, and the Murray River has peaked at Echuca, as flood emergencies unfold across eastern Australia.

The 28-year-old woman and three other people were travelling in a car that was swept off a causeway at Gulgong, near Mudgee, on Sunday evening. The driver and two passengers escaped the vehicle and made their way to safety, according to police.

The woman reportedly also got out of the vehicle, but could not be located. Though the body is yet to be formally identified, a police statement said it is believed to be the missing woman.

The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, expressed his condolences to the deceased woman’s family and thanked those involved in the search.

“We have hundreds of SES volunteers on the ground right across our state doing amazing work, putting their life on the line, day in, day out to provide that safety for our people across New South Wales,” he said.

The discovery came amid heavy rainfall and more than 130 flood warnings across the state.

Moree, in the state’s north-west, has been inundated in recent days and about 4,000 people have been told to evacuate.

Christoph, who lives in north Moree, woke on Sunday morning to water lapping at his house.

“It is very overwhelming,” he said. “It looks like trenches in front of every house.

“The roads in front of our subdivision are covered in water 40cm high. If I stand in the middle of the road, my gumboots fill up with water.”

Greg Henry, from Moree’s local radio station Now FM, spent the morning walking through the centre of town, taking a look at the damage as the flood waters receded.

“[It] left all sorts of debris from higher ground,” he said. “It is sticky, smelly, yucky … [with] very thick river silt along everything.”

A view of a main street in Moree taken from the footpath, it shows some water still covering the road which is brown from the layer of mud and silt left behind by flood waters
Moree’s streets were covered in mud from the previous day’s flooding Photograph: NOW FM/Supplied

Record-breaking rainfall in some parts of the state has led to significant flows into inland rivers and dams.

Copeton Dam, near Inverell, reached a spill rate of 150GL a day, while the Split Rock on the Manila River has started spilling for the first time since 2001.

WaterNSW said the scale of the impacts were “unprecedented in recent decades”.

“Some regional dams in flood-affected valleys have released the equivalent of the entire volume of the dam over time, only to have the water quickly replaced by recurring inflows generated by persistent rainfall and heavy storms,” the agency said.

“This prolonged rain on saturated ground keeps downstream tributary flow high, increasingly limiting opportunities to make large-scale water releases to reduce storage level, without adversely impacting communities downstream.”

There was some minor relief for Lismore, however, where a major flood warning was downgraded to moderate flooding on Monday, after residents had been told to prepare to evacuate on Sunday night, for the third time this year.

The flooding crisis also continued in Victoria, with heavy falls overnight in some of the worst affected communities.

The makeshift levee in Echuca continued to protect residents on one side as authorities believe the Murray River reached its peak late on Monday.

Julie Golledge is among the residents on the other side of the levee, many of whose homes have been inundated. Her house is built high, but after Sunday night’s rain, the water was at her front door.

A view from a road of a house with a flooded front yard and a row of filled bags along the road
Sandbagged houses in Echuca, Victoria. Photograph: Cait Kelly/The Guardian

“It has risen overnight,” Golledge said, adding that she “had gone past” anxiety and was just waiting for the river to peak.

Parts of Echuca received an extra 70mm overnight, with the Murray River now sitting at a suspected peak of 94.9 metres (above sea level) – exceeding the 1993 record of 94.77 metres.

“We may see a very small rise above that,” the Victorian SES chief operations officer, Tim Wiebusch, said. “But it’s intended to stay steady at that level for several days before we’ll start to see it receding in and around Echuca.”

Water levels appear to have peaked at Kerang, where the river is at 77.88 metres AHD (above sea level). People in Kerang have been urged to move to higher ground as it has been declared too late to leave.

On Tuesday wet weather is expected to move across eastern Victoria, and showers are forecast across the state on Wednesday. Flooding of the Murray River is expected to go “for weeks and weeks, flowing into Victoria,” Dean Narramore, a meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said.

Wiebusch said Disaster Relief Australia has been coordinating about 100 volunteers to help communities clean up, with efforts moving to Mooroopna and Rochester in the coming days.

About 80% of Rochester was flooded and some in the town have complained of feeling abandoned by emergency services.

There are also 10 flood warnings in place for Queensland rivers, including a major flood warning for the Macintyre River, which is expected to peak at 10.2 metres late on Monday.

Cait Kelly and Peter Hannam contributed to this report

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