Australian Residents Flee as NSW River Nears 160-Year Peak

About 8,000 people were ordered to leave their homes in the New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga after emergency services predicted the local river would reach its highest level in almost 160 years.

The Murrumbidgee River is forecast to peak at 10.9 meters (36 feet) today with floodwaters threatening to breach a levy and inundate the town of more than 60,000 people, the NSW State Emergency Service said. Soldiers helped stack sandbags overnight to protect properties as residents loaded furniture on to trucks and headed for higher ground.

“We are planning for the worst, hoping for the best,” Mark Murdoch, assistant commissioner of the NSW Police Force, told reporters today. The downtown area of Wagga Wagga, 460 kilometers (285 miles) southwest of Sydney, faces significant flooding if the levy doesn’t hold, he said in comments broadcast by Sky News.

About 75 percent of Australia’s most populous state is affected by flooding as rainfall causes rivers to burst their banks, with 12,900 people forced to leave their homes across NSW, according to the SES. Grain exports this month may be lower than expected as floodwaters cut access to bulk handling sites on the east coast, Commonwealth Bank of Australia commodity strategist Luke Mathews said in an e-mailed note today.

The Murrumbidgee is expected to peak just under 10.9 meters at about 6 p.m. local time today, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website. A 10.9-meter peak for the Murrumbidgee River would match the high recorded in July 1853, according to Wagga Wagga’s website.

The NSW government declared a state of emergency for the town and said if the levee is breached people may not be able to return to their homes for three days.

Rescuing Sheep

Television images showed muddy water lapping at the roofs of houses in parts of Wagga Wagga and farmers rescuing sheep from inundated fields by boat.

Flooding in parts of eastern Australia may provide a “solid base” for winter and irrigated crops, Paul Morris, executive director at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, said in Canberra today.

Flood warnings are also in place in neighboring Victoria state to the south and northeastern Queensland state.

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