Communities in the Australian state of New South Wales’s far west are being warned they face “a long journey ahead” following expected record flood peaks.
Premier Dominic Perrottet visited Menindee, and Broken Hill on Saturday, lamenting the immense amount of water from the slow-moving disaster will take weeks to recede.
The Darling River at Menindee is tipped to peak at more than 10.7 metres in the coming days, higher than the previous 1976 record of 10.47 metres, due to further heavy rainfall and planned water releases upstream.
About 30 properties have been impacted by flooding above floor level, with State Emergency Service crews and others working to sandbag, deliver supplies and gather intelligence in preparation for the rising waters.
Mr Perrottet was briefed by the SES alongside other ministers on Saturday before surveying the extent of flooding around Menindee by helicopter.
“The waters are still rising. There is a long journey ahead once we hit the peak,” Perrottet said.
“We’ve got so many roads that are underwater, many properties that are affected, evacuation orders are still in place, and from above, you can see the extent of the damage and the time it’s going to take to get through this event.”
Assessments were also being made of the threat to communities downstream of Menindee, in particular at Wentworth on the Murray River bordering Victoria.
SES assistant commissioner Shawn Kearns said his organisation was beginning to reach out to landholders and communities south of Menindee to assess their risk.
Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said financial support would remain available for impacted residents as it had been throughout last year when hundreds of communities across the state were affected by floods.
“The focus at the moment is to make sure that we get through the current response phase,” Cooke said.
“But we will move very quickly at the appropriate time into recovery, and that’s when we’ll be able to do those all-important rapid damage assessments, understand the damage to people’s homes, and that will provide that basic intelligence to make sure we put the right supports in place.”
One of the biggest flood impacts in regional communities has been damage to roads, which last week the state government committed $500 million to help fix.
Independent MP Roy Butler, who represents the state’s largest electorate of Barwon, welcomed the funding but said the actual cost of fixing regional roads would likely be much higher.
“It’s fair to say the repair of roads and improving roads so that we’re not cut off for as long in our communities is going to be in the billions of dollars,” Butler said.
He said there wasn’t enough road crews to keep up with demand for repairs regardless of the amount of funding.
“It’s going to take a long time, there’s no easy way to say it,” Mr Butler said.
“This shire has 2700 kilometres of unsealed roads. It’s going to take a long time.”
Water levels at Menindee are expected to remain above the major flood level of 9.70 metres through to mid-January, according to the SES.