SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities accelerated recovery efforts and cancelled more than a dozen flood evacuation warnings on Friday as water levels that have caused widespread damage across the country’s east receded.
Clean-up efforts were ramped up across large parts of New South Wales (NSW) state with military personnel joining the state’s emergency services to clear debris from roads and bridges, and deliver food and other supplies to cut-off communities.
“It is an enormously humbling and proud moment to see the wonderful resilience and character of Australians in times like this,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in the flood-affected town of Wauchope, 380 km (236 miles) north of Sydney. “The clean-up now begins, the sun is out. The water is receding.”
The floodwaters that submerged large swathes of the state are a stark contrast to the drought and catastrophic bushfires that burned through many of the same regions just over a year ago.
Five days of incessant rain triggered the worst floods in more than half a century in NSW, Australia’s most populous state, cutting off entire towns and washing away homes, farms and livestock.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated during the deluge, which at its peak a few days ago subjected around 40% of the country’s population of 25 million across an area the size of Alaska to weather warnings.
The rural crime unit of the NSW police force said it had received an increase in reports of wandering livestock, and urged people to file reports on lost, found and straying animals.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the recovery process would be “challenging” due to the scale of the rainfall received over the past week.
“We know, regrettably from all the experience we’ve had, that sometimes the clean-up and recovery is more difficult than the crisis itself,” Berejiklian said.
The Insurance Council of Australia, the main industry body, said more than 25,600 insurance claims worth about A$385 million($293.1 million) had been lodged by Friday and it expects more to be filed.
Evacuation warnings remained on Friday for hundreds of low-lying properties along the NSW coast, the worst-hit state, as rivers stayed above danger levels.
NSW state emergency services said evacuation warnings and orders now cover around 20,000 people in the state, down from 85,000 at the peak of the wild weather system.
Australia’s weather bureau said moderate flooding would continue in Sydney’s western suburbs and northern regions of NSW state over the weekend but it expects the river levels to gradually recede further.
The Hunter Valley coal rail line to Newcastle, the world’s biggest coal export port, was fully reopened by operator Australian Rail Track Corp on Friday.
The line was shut for nearly a week because of the floods, a disruption that sent coal prices to more than two-year highs above $100 a tonne.
($1 = 1.32 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Jane Wardell and Karishma Singh)