Homes inundated by swollen rivers in Australian floods

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Homes were flooded in Melbourne and other cities in Australia’s southeast on Friday with rivers forecast to remain dangerously high for days.

About 70 residents were told to leave the suburb of Maribyrnong in Melbourne’s northwest, along with hundreds in the Victoria state cities of Benalla and Wedderburn, authorities said. Melbourne is Australia’s second-most populous city with 5 million people.

About 500 homes in Victoria were flooded and another 500 had been isolated by floodwater, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said. Those numbers would increase, he said.

Most of the state was experiencing a “very, very, significant rainfall event and it comes, of course, with the ground completely sodden,” Andrews said.

“The real challenge now is we’ve got another rain event next week and the Bureau (of Meteorology) forecasting more rain throughout the next six-to-eight week period and it won’t take a lot of additional water for there to be further flood events,” Andrews added. “So this has only just started and it’s going to be with us for a while.”

Andrews said 4,700 homes were without power, more than the 3,500 that Victoria State Emergency Service had reported earlier on Friday.

The Bureau of Meteorology said major-to-record flooding was occurring or was forecast to occur on many rivers in Victoria and the island state of Tasmania to the south.

North of Victoria, moderate-to-major flooding was occurring along several rivers in inland New South Wales state, the bureau said.

A 63-year-old man was reported missing in floodwater in New South Wales on Tuesday and a person was reported missing in central Victoria on Friday, officials said. No details of the person missing from the Victorian town of Newbridge have been released.

Police on Tuesday found the body of a 46-year-old man in his submerged car in floodwater near the New South Wales city of Bathurst, west of Sydney, a day after he died.

The State Emergency Service said it had carried out 108 flood rescues in Victoria in the past 48 hours.

State Emergency Service commander Josh Gamble said complacency was the main reason for people getting into trouble.

“That is quite significant and we haven’t had that many flood rescues for quite some time, for some years in fact,” Gamble said.

“Many of these people are putting their own lives at risk, their own children in some circumstances, but more importantly, other community members and responders and that’s in all parts of the state not just metropolitan areas,” Gamble added.

Evacuation orders were also in place for the town of Rochester on the Campaspe River, north of Melbourne, and the central Victorian towns of Carisbrook and Seymour on the Goulburn River.

In New South Wales, 550 people have been isolated or evacuated from the town of Forbes as the Lachlan River flooded, authorities said.

South of Forbes, parts of the city of Wagga Wagga were evacuated due to the Murrumbidgee River breaking its banks.

“Fortunately, the Murrumbidgee River peaked on Thursday and we’re starting to see the floodwaters decline in those areas,” New South Wales State Emergency Service official Andrew Edmunds said.

In Tasmania, north coast residents were moving to higher ground with river levels forecast to rise and the major port of Devonport was closed on Friday due to flooding of the Mersey River.

The bureau said flood peaks on the Meander and Macquarie rivers in Tasmania were likely to be the highest on record.

The North Esk and Mersey rivers may peak around the same levels as they did during major floods in 2016, when three people drowned, the bureau said.

The bureau last month declared that a La Niña weather pattern, which is associated with above-average rainfall in eastern Australia, was underway in the Pacific.

The bureau forecast that the La Niña event may peak during the current Southern Hemisphere spring and return to neutral conditions early next year.

La Niña is the cooler flip side of the better-known drying El Niño pattern. La Niña occurs when equatorial trade winds become stronger, changing ocean surface currents and drawing up cooler deep water.

It is the third La Niña since 2019 became Australia’s hottest and driest year on record.

That year came to a catastrophic conclusion with wildfires fueled by drought that directly or indirectly killed more than 400 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed 19 million hectares (47 million acres) of woods, farmland and city fringes.

Sydney, New South Wales’ capital and Australia’s largest city, last week beat its 1950 record to make 2022 its wettest-ever year.

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