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NSW: Heavy rain eases as northern NSW surveys flood damage

By Belinda Cranston
18 Feb 2009 7:15 PM

SYDNEY, Feb 18 AAP - A total of six NSW council areas have been declared natural disaster areas as flood waters in the state's north slowly recede, revealing the immense scale of the damage.

About 370 millimetres of rain fell across the NSW mid-north coast over the five days from last Friday, with the resulting floodwaters isolating towns, inundating homes and forcing evacuations.

While the roads into Bellingen reopened on Wednesday, about 700 people were still cut off from the outside world in the Upper Kalang Valley and the Darkwood area north of Thora.

Three evacuation centres housing about 20 people at Kendall, Urunga and Wauchope, south of Coffs Harbour, have now closed down, but state Community Services Minister Linda Burney said they would reopen if needed.

By Wednesday afternoon, the SES had responded to 1,020 requests for assistance from residents across NSW during the past six days.

Most of the requests came from residents of the mid north coast,including Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Taree.

A spokesman from the Bureau of Metrology said while further showers were expected throughout the area over the next few days, the heavy rain had ceased.

"We're not looking at anymore widespread heavy rain that causes rivers to flood," he said.

Thunderstorms, however, were likely to strike the state's mid-west on Thursday, from Bourke to Coonamble.

The Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca, Kempsey, and Port Macquarie-Hastings council areas have now joined Bourke in being declared natural disaster areas, allowing businesses, residents and councils to receive state government assistance.

"The declaration may be extended to other local government areas as ongoing assessments are carried out," a spokeswoman for Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Attorney General Robert McClelland said the federal government would reimburse the NSW government for personal hardship assistance given to people whose properties were damaged.

It will also provide loans at concessional interest rates to primary producers, small businesses and non-profit bodies to replace facilities which have been damaged or destroyed by floods.

There will be grants to local councils to meet the additional costs of emergency work to restore essential services and assistance to sporting clubs to restore damaged facilities.

Bellingen Shire Mayor Mark Troy said council would have a better idea of damage later this week, but in Port Macquarie alone early estimates put the bill at about $2 million.

Private businesses spoke of damage worth tens of thousands of dollars as flood-affected homeowners were encouraged to lodge insurance claims.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) was on Wednesday briefed by the SES.

"While there are properties in western NSW and the Clarence, Oxley and Hunter regions that have been subject to flood water, at this stage the most significant damage appears to have been sustained by local government and state infrastructure, such as roads and bridges," ICA executive director Kerrie Kelly said.

"The Insurance Council encourages policyholders to make contact with their insurance company and seek advice about the claim process under your policy."

The state government has warned the remains of a tropical cyclone is expected to reach Lord Howe Island, off Australia's east coast, around midnight on Wednesday.

A spokesman from the SES said it was monitoring the situation and was prepared to respond if required.

People needing information on how to claim the assistance are asked to call the State Disaster Recovery Centre on 1800 018 444.