Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
ABC News
ABC News

Authorities optimistic the worst has passed in Echuca as floodwaters peak on the Murray River

Victorian authorities believe the Murray River has peaked at Echuca, after a massive community effort to protect the town from flooding.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the Murray River had been steady in the northern Victorian town for the past six hours.

"So I do believe that we are seeing that peak at the moment," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

But he said the water likely would likely not recede for two or three days, and the major flooding level could remain for at least week.

"That's an awful lot of water — an awful lot of pressure — on that system, so there is still a long way to go," he said.

At a Tuesday flood update, Commissioner Crisp said Victoria was still grappling with a flood emergency and anyone who chose to stay in a flood zone must remain vigilant.

He said the Murray River had peaked at 94.9 metres above sea level.

Authorities have warned the regional hub of Swan Hill in the state's north-west to prepare for possible major flooding early next month, as floodwater makes its way down the Murray River.

Major flooding to continue in Echuca for a week

Echuca resident Elisha Johnson is determined to save her aunt's house, which is on the wrong side of the town's 2.5km-long flood levee.  

So far, the house and five others near it have been protected from the raging Murray River by a smaller levee around the block, as well as the community's efforts.

Ms Johnson said when the flood conditions "got scary" on Friday, her aunt posted a call-out on social media asking for help to protect her home and people "came out of nowhere."

"We were just so lucky," Ms Johnson said.

"All day Friday and all day Saturday, all we've done is continue to put more and more sandbags there to … accommodate for the peak."

Ms Johnson said 20 to 30 people live on the same block as her aunt, which has been completely surrounded by floodwater.

"They're literally sitting on a little island — they're dry for now — all by themselves," she said.

"People have donated so many of their pumps, which we're forever grateful for, fuel for the pumps, putting people in there, bringing people out."

She said her aunt doesn't have flood insurance because it's too expensive in that area.

"She's a pensioner… she's not going to be able to rebuild it or fix it up, she could potentially be homeless for a long time," Ms Johnson said.

"This is when people slip into poverty, because they don't have that financial support to fix things up. So we have got to save it."

She said the recent rain has worsened the situation. 

"All the water from the roofs are gushing inside the levee, that all has to be pumped out," she said.

Despite that, Ms Johnson feels optimistic that conditions will improve soon.

"I feel like it's the peak, if the rain stops … I just feel like we've been through three pretty hellish days, it's been raining non stop, thunderstorms, so much water. I feel like it just has to happen now," she said.

She's one of many residents in the inundated communities of Echuca and Moama, on the NSW side of the river, hoping the Murray River's levels will recede soon.

Council defends levee against community 'rumours'

The Campaspe Shire Council, which takes in Echuca, released a statement on Tuesday to respond to community concerns about the levee, which only protects some homes from inundation.

"The levee's location was decided by Emergency Management Victoria to save as many homes as possible from flooding and at the same time the decision needed to consider the short 48-hour time frame to undertake the work, required height of the levee, plant and equipment access and the engineering requirements for the levee construction," it said in a statement.

The council said it was not consulted on the levee's location or design.

The council said there were "rumours circulating in the community" about whether appropriate action was taken, but stressed this flood event was not comparable to past emergencies.

"Once we are through the immediate impact of these floods, staff will turn their attention to past learnings, as well as learnings from this event, to inform future planning and possible advocacy to other levels of government to improve local infrastructure and our resilience to future flood events," it stated.

Commissioner Crisp said it was "extremely unfortunate" that some properties were excluded from the levee's protection.

"It was understood from the outset, that by putting the levee in, there was going to be impacts on some properties," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"It's about managing risk.

"But again, my understanding from some of those homes that have been impacted is that they were supportive of the approach taken by emergency services and the broader community."

Kerang residents 'still want some normality'

In the town of Kerang, about halfway between Echuca and Swan Hill, the Loddon River is expected to remain at its major flood level for most of this week.

Twenty homes, as well as a caravan park and industrial area, were impacted by floodwater following a levee breach on the western side of Kerang on Saturday.

There are other levees on the eastern side of the town, and emergency services and the local council have been assessing levee integrity.

Kerang resident Brent Heitbaum said most people were in good spirits as they wait for waters to recede.

"A lot of people in the community are really dedicated to what they're doing, and they want to go out and they want to help," he said. 

Mr Heitbaum runs the Wood Box Coffee cafe in the town, which is operating despite the flood.

"My belief is the levee will hold. People in town need that continuity, people still need to eat, people still need coffee, people still want some normality," he said.

He said there are some difficulties getting supplies for the cafe due to road closures.

Most major roads in and out of the town have been cut off, including the Murray Valley Highway.

Weather bureau says October will smash rainfall record

The Bureau of Meteorology says coming rainfalls in the next few days are not likely to be as severe as earlier totals.

Senior meteorologist Kevin Parkyn said rainfall from the past 24 hours had not led to major responses from Victoria's rivers.

"It hasn't resulted in significant changes or an upgrade of the major warnings that we have in place," he said.

He said a low-pressure system that had crossed into Victoria from New South Wales had produced 50 to 60mm in the Cann and Genoa catchments in East Gippsland, leading to minor flood warnings.

From Sunday, he said a weather system could impact Victoria, but the bureau did not expect it to lead to heavy rain in much of the state.

"So that Sunday to Tuesday timeframe, more rain across the state, with the higher rainfall totals focused in the north-east where we could see cumulative falls in excess of 50 millimetres."

"There's no doubt that October will smash the rainfall record across the northern plains."

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.