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NSW: Rain too much, too soon, says Coffs mayor

By Adam Bennett and Vincent Morello
01 Apr 2009 5:34 PM

SYDNEY, April 1 AAP - Too much, too quick and too soon after February's devastating floods - that's how Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades describes the latest deluge.

The regional hub on the NSW mid-north coast is mopping up after torrential rain completely isolated the town.

Coffs Creek peaked at 6.15pm (AEDT) on Tuesday just below the 1996 flood level of 5.43m, after copping 450mm of rain in a 24-hour period.

About 100 Coffs Harbour residential properties and businesses were affected, with 420 people evacuated, including 300 school children and residents of aged care facilities.

Coffs Harbour, along with the local government areas of Bellingen and Nambucca, were on Wednesday declared natural disaster zones, after the once-in-a-century storms.

It is the second time in just six weeks that parts of the region have been declared disaster zones, with heavy rains in February still fresh residents' minds.

Mr Rhoades said the downpour was "a simple case of too much, too quick".

"No matter what system you have in place in regards to mitigation, you would not have been able to cope with what came down," he told AAP.

"(Coffs Harbour business people) all told me that you actually stood there and saw it coming, and there wasn't a thing you could do about it - that's how quick it was."

The State Emergency Services (SES) said 1,600 Bellingen residents were still isolated, as were 500 people in nearby Darkwood, after heavy rain pushed the Bellinger River to a peak of 8.6 metres on Tuesday night.

They are likely to be isolated for two to four days.

South of Coffs Harbour, the Nambucca River peaked at 10.25m, just 0.25m below the record level of June 1950, at 10.30pm on Tuesday.

Nearby Bowraville and surrounding farmland remained isolated, the SES said.

The rail line between Kempsey and Casino was closed, after flooding washed away rail ballast and caused landslides.

Coffs Harbour residents and businesses were now mopping up after just recovering from the previous deluge.

"Basements in buildings are being hosed out today to get the silt and mud out," Mr Rhoades said.

"Residents are trying to salvage what they can of possessions that have been washed out of their garages, car ports, and some times, out of their houses.

"You've just got to feel for these people, because it is heartbreaking."

Mr Rhoades compared Tuesday's floods with those of 1996, which caused $140 million in damages and killed one woman.

"Looking at the 1996 flood and what that cost, I would put this one in the tens of millions of dollars for people to get to back to where they were," he said.

"There is damage to stock in businesses, homes that have had water go straight through them.

"I saw premises last night that weren't even within 50 metres of previous flood levels (but) that were affected last night, that have never before been affected."

The Insurance Council of Australia has urged people to make their claims as quickly as possible.

The SES received more than 940 calls for assistance across NSW due to the heavy rains, with the majority coming from the Clarence and Nambucca areas.

Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said 100 people had to be rescued by emergency services, 65 in Coffs Harbour.

More than 800 people spent the night in evacuation centres in Coffs Harbour, Bonville, Macksville and Urunga, with most returning home after floodwaters receded.

Despite fears that further rain on Wednesday might exacerbate the flooding, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said the mid-north coast had seen the worst of the falls.

However, flood warnings were still current for rivers along the NSW coast, including the Orara, the Bellinger, Nambucca, Manning and Hastings rivers, and the Williams River near Newcastle.

"It's backed off into a shower situation, rather than the constant heavy rain we had yesterday," BoM duty forecaster Ewan Mitchell said.

"The problem is, with the saturated ground due to the recent rain, any further falls can fairly quickly give you some further heavy runoff and local flooding problems."

The wild weather has also seen the closure of most beaches along the NSW coast with waves topping three metres, Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) said.

However, the heavy rain in the past 24 hours has brought relief for Sydney's dams.

Sydney's Warragamba catchment received about one-sixth of its average April rainfall on the first day of the month, with 14mm falling in the 24 hours to 9am (AEDT) Wednesday.

The Upper Nepean and Woronora catchments had almost half their median monthly rainfall, recording falls of 41.6mm and 49.5mm, respectively.