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Floods force evacuations in southeast Australia

October 14, 2022

Rainwater has burst past several Australian riverbanks after incessant rain in the last two days. At least one death has been reported.

Two residents in Victoria stand on a street looking at a car partially submerged in flood water
Australia's flood crisis is expected to get worse as water from the overflowing rivers goes downstreamImage: James Ross/AAP/dpa/picture alliance

Thousands of people across three states in Australia were asked to evacuate their homes on Friday after two days of unrelenting rain triggered flash floods in the southeast of the country. Local authorities expect the situation to only get grimmer in the upcoming days.

The flooding has been worst in the state of Victoria so far, with southern parts of New South Wales and northern parts of the island state of Tasmania also witnessing incessant rain. Some regions have taken more than a month's worth of rain since Wednesday, according to officials.

"[This] has led to widespread, major flooding... with some rivers experiencing record flooding and this is only going to continue to move downstream and get worse," Dean Narramore of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology told ABC television.

At least one death has been reported. Police said they had found the body of a 71-year-old man in his backyard in the town of Rochester, just north of Melbourne.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the federal government stood ready to provide assistance to the flood-knit states. "There are already ADF (Australian Defense Force) personnel on the ground in Victoria... this is a difficult time, my heart goes out to those communities affected at this time," local media quoted him as saying.

Images on social media showed people wading through knee-deep water with their pets while others were being rescued on boats. Meanwhile, the ground floor of a pub on the banks of Melbourne's Maribyrnong river was almost completely underwater on Friday morning. 

Emergency workers look at a submerged car on a flooded street in the Maribyrnong suburb of Melbourne
The state of Victoria was worst hit at first, including its capital Melbourne as the Maribyrnong River burst its banksImage: William West/AFP

This is not the first major flooding crisis in Australia this year. Severe storms along the country's east coast led to flooding in March this year, which devastated parts of Queensland and New South Wales and claimed over 20 lives. In July, tens of thousands of residents in Sydney were asked to evacuate due to floods.

Weather experts attribute these to a multi-year La Nina — a weather phenomenon that brings more rain.

Far from over

Several rivers in Victoria, including the Maribyrnong in Melbourne's west and the Goulburn further north, reached major flood levels with rainwater bursting past the banks. Near-record flood levels were expected later on Friday evening in the towns of Shepparton and Murchison, north of Melbourne. The Goulburn River — about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Melbourne — has already crossed the record from May 1974.

About 500 homes in Victoria were flooded and another 500 had been isolated by floodwater, according to Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews. This number will only increase, he said, considering the river continues to overflow.

"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."  

 Floodwaters inundate a Victorian residential area amidst evacuation orders in Rochester, Australia
Authorities fear that the flooding will get worse and isolate more residential areasImage: STRINGER/REUTERS

Evacuation underway

At least two people have been reported missing, one in the state of Victoria and one in New South Wales.

In Victoria, the state's COVID-19 quarantine facility will likely be reopened to shelter flood-impacted residents. The coronavirus center was closed last week after Australia scrapped isolation rules.

In Tasmania, the crisis intensified overnight as heavy rains led to the closure of over 120 roads. Mass evacuation orders have been issued there. "Lives are at risk from floodwaters," Tasmania's state emergency service said in a statement.

Meanwhile hundreds of residents in southern New South Wales — Australia's most populous state — spent the night in evacuation centers. The New South Wales emergency service said flood levels in Forbes would peak on Friday as water moved downstream.

ab, mk/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)