Authorities sped up clean-up efforts and introduced new support packages for homeowners who lost their houses after torrential rains abated and floodwaters retreated on Thursday, allowing thousands of Australians to return to their homes.
Since late last month, torrential rains have flooded river banks across Australia’s southeast, drowning homes, farms, and bridges, and isolating entire communities. So far, twenty-one persons have been killed.
“We know it’s been a sad period up here,” New South Wales state Premier Dominic Perrottet said from the worst-affected Northern Rivers region. “We know it’s been a devastating time up here, probably moving through the initial shock for many people and the trauma that comes with it.”
“Many people are already returning to their houses in very tough conditions, many of which are uninhabitable,” Perrottet said as he revealed a A$551 million ($403 million) flood relief package that includes up to 16 weeks of rental assistance for flood victims.
Authorities reported more than 1,200 people remained in emergency housing in the Northern Rivers region, with 3,000 homes considered uninhabitable.
Rescue crews, including members of the military, took advantage of the calmer conditions to clear debris and provide necessary supplies, but residents’ frustration grew as they were without electricity and internet for several days.
In response to criticism about the tardy response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the floods a national emergency on Wednesday and proclaimed disaster zones in flood-affected areas.
According to a report released on Thursday by the Climate Council of Australia, the recent floods were “one of the most catastrophic disasters in Australian history,” with “wide-ranging” devastation. The Insurance Council of Australia projected total damages at A$1.77 billion ($1.30 billion).
Meanwhile, Sydney’s skies cleared after nearly two weeks, but serious flooding remained in the city’s western suburbs of North Richmond and Windsor as water from overflowing dams and rivers continued to flow. Floodwaters are expected to remain at present levels for the next 24 hours, according to emergency services.