As the heavy rains that caused devastating flooding stopped and skies cleared after five days, the Australians began returning to their homes on Thursday, but in some areas where water levels are still rising, fresh evacuation orders were issued.
The worst rains in more than half a century caused rivers burst banks, inundated homes, roads, bridges and farms and cut off entire towns in Australia’s east. More than 40,000 people were forced to move to safe zones and two men were killed after their cars became trapped in floodwaters.
Water continued to flow from overloaded dams and rivers on Thursday, particularly in New South Wales state, leading authorities to urge caution.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, in the meanwhile, warned of more rains.
Rising floodwaters from the Mehi river split Moree, a regional town 650 kilometers northwest of Sydney, into two, emergency services said.
The damage is more serious in the agricultural plains around Moree, where planting of wheat crop next month could be delayed.
Sydney’s western suburbs of North Richmond and Windsor are still submerged while fresh evacuation orders were issued for some areas in the centre of the state.
Still, there were some signs of relief as rescue teams, including defence force personnel, took advantage of eased conditions in several areas to clear debris and deliver supplies.
“The best advice I’ve received this morning is that most of the river systems we believe have peaked,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a televised news briefing.
Around 40 percent of Australia’s population of 25 million was affected by the severe weather system that stretched across an area the size of Alaska in recent days, touching every mainland state or territory but one.
Several evacuation orders have been lifted, but there were still around 20,000 people waiting in rescue centres, Berejiklian said.
The Insurance Council of Australia said about 17,000 damages claims worth about A$254.2 million had been lodged by Wednesday morning.