Exhaustion and relief as flood threat subsides in Deniliquin

The SES cancelled an evacuation order after warning some residents their homes would be inundated

Exhausted residents of the Riverina town of Deniliquin breathed a sigh of relief overnight after an evacuation order for the town was cancelled, but residents of the nearby village of Moulamein were told it was too late to leave.

The State Emergency Service on Sunday told residents living on the northern banks of the Edward River at Deniliquin to evacuate by 10am Wednesday, ahead of a forecast major flood level of 9.4 metres, rising as high as 9.6 metres later in the week.

If that had eventuated, it would have been the biggest flood the town had seen since 1917.

But the SES downgraded the order to a watch and act alert late Tuesday, and said the river appeared to have peaked at 9.19 metres – within moderate flooding levels – and was falling.

Downstream, the town of Moulamein, population 484, was not so lucky. By 3pm Tuesday, residents were told it was too late to leave as the roads out had been cut off.

Davidson Street, Deniliquin, NSW, Australia
A wall of sandbags outside an IK Caldwell branch in Davidson Street, Deniliquin. Photograph: Fleur Connick/The Guardian

Christine Fraser, 65, has lived at her home on Herriott Street in Deniliquin – one of the streets in the Davidson Street area that was ordered to evacuate – for almost 30 years. She said she had seen floods before but nothing like this.

“It’s very hard for a lot of people,” she said.

When Guardian Australia spoke to her on Tuesday, a wall of sandbags was stacked one metre high around her house.

Acquiring them was a challenge: three Rural Fire Service members helped her on Sunday, but by Monday the SES had run out. Her sister put a callout on Facebook and the response was overwhelming.

“Some of the people I didn’t even know, I’ve never even met them before in my life,” Fraser said.

“Some of them were here all day, they never left until the sandbagging was finished.”

Fraser said people knocked on her door all day offering to help. Some brought shovels and truckloads of sand, others brought supplies, bottled water and sandwiches for lunch.

“It was really good that people were so willing to just come and help,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

‘We’re all exhausted, we’re sore’: Julie Pearn out the front of her house on Herriott Street, Deniliquin.
‘We’re all exhausted, we’re sore’: Julie Pearn out the front of her house on Herriott Street, Deniliquin. Photograph: Fleur Connick/The Guardian

Further down Herriott Street, Julie Pearn spent Tuesday loading her furniture and belongings on the back of a trailer. The house was almost completely empty.

Pearn, 71, said she expected that her whole house and garden, which stretches down to the banks of the Edward River, would soon be under water. It was already at her back fence.

“We can’t get insurance here,” she said. “For insurance along this street it’s like six grand a year, so none of us got insurance. It’s just devastating.”

Pearn said they did not get enough time to prepare for the evacuation order, after weeks with the river at moderate flood levels.

“We kept on being told we’re OK and then, all of a sudden, now you’ve got to get out,” she said. “Most of us are older people, and it’s just cruel. It’s really cruel.

“We’re all exhausted, we’re sore. Like I’m only meant to be on my feet for 20 minutes and sit down. We’re just going back and forth for hours.”

Alan Maher at his house on Davidson Street, Deniliquin, NSW, Australia
‘Without our volunteers, we’re all gone’: Alan Maher at his house on Davidson Street, Deniliquin. Photograph: Fleur Connick/The Guardian

Alan Maher has lived on Davidson Street his whole life. His entire family, including his grandson’s friends from the Deniliquin Rams football club, had been helping Maher and his wife, Linda, sandbag the property and prepare to leave.

“My mother and father lived in this house,” he said. “My father was born in that house [next door] and in 1954 he built this house. I’m the third generation of these two houses.”

Maher said he was “very stressed, very tired”.

“Old blokes like me can’t work hard any more,” he said. “Without our volunteers, we’re all gone.”

Maher said he had spent $15,000 on flood preparation and was preparing to spend another $1,000 in an effort to save the two houses and a recently renovated shed, which cost them $20,000.

“We’ve been able to retire pretty comfortably … we can afford these enormous costs but 90% of other people can’t,” he said.


Fleur Connick

The GuardianTramp

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