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About 1,000 Australians evacuate homes from floods

world Updated: Jan 03, 2010 19:22 IST
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About 1,000 people in a small Australian town evacuated their homes on Sunday as floodwaters besieged the area after 10 days of heavy rain.

Emergency officials advised 1,200 residents of Coonamble, 415 kilometres northwest of Sydney, to relocate to less-threatened parts away from the rising Castlereagh River.

State Emergency Services urged people to evacuate by nightfall. The river was expected to peak at 18 feet early Monday -- its highest level since February 1971 and just below a 19-foot high levee.

"We want to make sure that the people there do not have any risk to their own safety, so we need to err on the side of caution," said State Emergency Services spokesman Phil Campbell.

He said there was concern about the levee withstanding such a high flood level, but Mayor Tim Horan said engineers did not anticipate major problems.

"We know we've got some weak points in the levee where there's seepage with the sand," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "But we've just got to make sure we put in precautions to cover any problems that may arise."

Residents trolled away in a motorboat and ranchers herded horses and cattle through the deep water to higher ground. A major road was submerged by brown water.

Coonamble, with a population of nearly 2,600 people, was cut off by floodwaters caused by heavy rains that began Christmas Day. While meteorologists say the worst of the rain is over, rivers and reservoirs are still dealing with the extra water.