Hundreds of residents in the small Riverina town of Moulameen have chosen to evacuate and defend their properties against rising floodwaters, although officials have warned they could be isolated in December.
The State Emergency Service warned the entire city to be evacuated by 2 a.m. Tuesday or face weeks of cuts as the Edward River, which meets with Billabong Creek in the city, is expected to reach a height of 6.2 meters on Thursday There was hope.
Bureau of Meteorology senior meteorologist Miriam Bradbury said river levels from the saturated catchment would remain stable near that peak “well through December”.
“Unfortunately, these floodwaters are moving so slowly that it could take weeks for those peaks to return,” Bradbury said.
Cassie Jackson, whose family owns the IGA supermarket in Moulamein, was among those who decided to stay.
“I would say probably 85% of the city has ground to a halt,” Jackson told Guardian Australia. “Most people are trying to be here to keep the city running, to protect the city and to help keep businesses running and to help when they need it.”
Jackson said he spent the past few weeks stocking the IGA in anticipation of the city being cut.
“I had to meet some trucks on the other side of the floodwaters to get bread, milk and that sort of thing in a four-wheel drive,” she said.
“You just had to pre-order everything in the weeks ahead and try and guess what we needed.”
Her father and three sons were in a more precarious position – they chose to stay and protect the family farm, which had already been cut off by floodwaters on Wednesday.
Jackson said, “My mother is in the city because it is too unsafe to live there.”
Shear Lipp lives with her husband and two children, Harry, nine, and Louis, seven, on a property on the River Neymur, about 40km from Moulamein. Their house was under a two meter high dirt embankment. On Wednesday the water was almost over.
“Over there at our house, we’ve probably only got another 10 cm of clearance,” Lipp said. “But there are areas where it’s falling off and started to leak or spill,” my husband said this morning.
Lip said, if it explodes, their house will be destroyed.
“All the houses out there, we’re all gone,” she said. “But we all work on the same farm together, so it’s a small community.”
Lipp is one of the owners of the Moulmein news agency, which is also the only service station in the city. She moved to the city last week with her children and was able to obtain emergency housing.
She said the city was “eerie” and “dead” quiet after the evacuation order took effect.
“I know a lot of families with young kids, either mom and kids are gone and dad is still sandbagging,” Lipp said.
“I respect anyone who has stayed and who has gone, it really comes down to a personal decision.
“We’re healthy, we’re able, we can still help, and we also have a local service station that needs to stay open. So we’ll do what we can until we can’t.”
Residents spent Wednesday building small dams in an effort to protect homes close to the river and monitor the river’s height. According to the SES, the city has flood embankments and the biggest risk was that residents would be trapped if roads in and out of the city went under water.
“It’s a beautiful little community and the moment someone sings out for help, someone listens,” Lipp said.
He said farmers from outside the city are also trying to save their crops.
“There are grain crops that have yet to be harvested, and rice crops that have just been sown,” he said.
“So there’s a lot at stake and it’s a real high-pressure situation.”
Moulmein producer Jeremy Morton said he was trying to deal with the flood situation on his farm.
Morton, chairman of the National Irrigation Council, said roads around the city had been inundated for weeks and were “extensively damaged”.
“The roads have been closed for a reason,” he said.