Australians take stock of flood damages as clean up efforts accelerate

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.

Five straight days of incessant rains triggered the worst floods in Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) in more than half a century, cutting off entire towns and washing away homes, farms and livestock.

Tens of thousands people were evacuated during the deluge, which at its peak a few days ago subjected around 40% of Australia’s population of 25 million across an area the size of Alaska to weather warnings.

Conditions have eased over the last two days but evacuation warnings remained on Friday for hundreds of low-lying properties along the coast in NSW, the worst hit state, as rivers stayed above danger levels.

Clean-up efforts were ramped up across large parts of the 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.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the recovery process would be “challenging” due to the scale of the rainfall received over the past week.

“Our focus is to make sure affected residents are safe and get back on their feet as soon as possible,” Berejiklian said in a statement.

NSW state emergency services official Daniel Austin said the total 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.

“The supermarkets are largely now starting to get back into their own swing of things, so we’re very much focused on where the isolated communities still are,” Austin told Sky News on Friday.

Australian Rail Track Corp said on Friday it has fully reopened the Hunter Valley coal rail line to Newcastle, the world’s biggest coal export port.

The line was shut for nearly a week because of the floods, a disruption that coal prices to more than two-year highs above $100 a tonne.

Insurance Australia Group Ltd said on Friday it had received 8,000 claims of flood damages worth about A$135 million ($102.32 million) and expects more claims to be filed.