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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Natasha May and Rafqa Touma

Narrabri evacuated as flood waters enter homes in saturated northern NSW

SES crews wade through hip-high brown flood waters while pulling along an inflatable rescue boat
New South Wales SES crews assist the inundated community of Gunnedah with evacuations on Monday. Photograph: Justin Thomsen NSW SES Dapto Unit

About 1,500 residents in Narrabri, in the north-west slopes of New South Wales, have been told to evacuate as the flooding crisis continues across swathes of eastern Australia.

There were 121 current emergency warnings in place across NSW on Tuesday, including 22 directing people to evacuate or move to higher ground, as swollen rivers threatened homes.

Evacuation orders were issued for Bombala Caravan Park in south-eastern NSW on Tuesday afternoon, with the Bureau of Meteorology warning of moderate flooding at Bombola River.

It came as a severe weather warning was issued for damaging winds and large hailstones across the Mid North Coast, including Port Macquarie, Taree, Kempsey, Gloucester, Forster and Wingham.

The SES chief inspector in Narrabri, Tony Battam, on Tuesday said about 20 homes and about six business were flooded above the floor in the town.

Lismore in northern NSW has been flooded yet again, with parts of the city ordered to evacuate on Monday.

There has also been major flooding at Moree, Gunnedah, Narrabri Hillston, Hay and Condobolin.

Battam said Narrabri’s Naomi River may peak at 7.6 metres on Tuesday afternoon and stay at that level for up to two days.

But most homes subject to the evacuation order will have water going under their home and not through it, he said.

Battam said the flood was similar to the one in November last year so community knowledge was high.

“Everyone knows where [the water is] going to go,” he said.

Jim Purcell, a local hydrologist, said Narrabri has been “on the cusp of a major flood for six months” and while the flood was similar to last year’s, this time “downstream floodways are full the water’s not been getting away”.

The water had nowhere to go in Moree. Greg Henry, from local radio station Now FM, said the flood came after heavy rain and “can’t run away”.

“The river water table is so high. The waters have nowhere to go other than to clash into the river.”

He said the slow recession of the water was “prolonging” the flood cleanup and making the natural disaster “more painful” for the community.

The NSW emergency services minister, Steph Cooke, on Tuesday morning said the threat of flooding would continue “for days to come” in parts of the state.

“The rivers are very, very full and of course our dams are mostly at full capacity at present,” she said.

“So even the smallest rainfall can cause an elevated risk of flash flooding and riverine flooding. We will see rivers decline, but the risk is real.”

Cooke said NSW was “bracing for another wet weather system into the state on the weekend”.

The town of Cooma was hit by flash flooding on Tuesday after a burst of rain in the morning.

The deputy mayor of Moree Plains shire council, Susannah Pearse, has been isolated on her property between Moree and Pallamallawa since Wednesday.

Pearse said while some of the damaged crops would be salvageable, the bigger problem for agricultural communities could be damage to roads, which were needed to get farmers’ produce to plates.

As water levels began to drop after five days of inundation, Pearse expected to see concrete roads and highways cracked, and gravel roads washed away.

“For the average farm, contract harvesters need to come into the property to harvest,” she said. “Then trucks need to come and go to get produce off the farm and into the storage network.”

With the road network damaged by flood and rainwater “harvest just won’t happen”. “So we have a huge task ahead of us, getting those crops to markets, or we won’t have a winter harvest,” she said.

A flooded street where the flood water has risen up shop fronts and a car is driving through the flooded road
Flash flooding in Cooma. Photograph: NSW SES

Pearse said produce was “the backbone” of the town’s economy and any reduction to the $1bn worth of produce grown in a good harvest year would have ramifications across the community.

But she said it was “a bit of a waiting game” as the true extent of the damage would only be seen when waters receded.

On the border of NSW and Victoria, the Murray River was at a flood height of nearly 95 metres above sea level on Tuesday morning.

“It’s been steady overnight and the expectation is that it may not change all that much over coming week,” a Victorian state control centre spokesperson said.

Echuca’s 3km flood levee – made out of 195,000 sandbags – held with no breaches overnight, the spokesperson said.

There were several emergency warnings in place across Victoria on Tuesday, including for Echuca, Barmah, Lower Moira, Bunbartha and Kerang.

• This article was amended on 26 October 2022 to correct the spelling of the town of Pallamallawa.

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