Flood levees on the brink as Wagga Wagga waits
The phone isn’t answering this afternoon at The Bridge Tavern and Steakhouse in Wagga Wagga.
The line also rings out at the Duke Hotel, The Home Tavern Hotel and The Tourist Hotel, all of which share a riverside address in Fitzmaurice St in downtown Wagga Wagga, where a State of Emergency has just been declared
At least 9,000 people in Australia’s 29th most populous city have evacuated and is eerily quiet as the deluge approaches. A deluge has already come from the skies. The city received 156 mm in the first four days of March. But the upper Murrumbidgee catchment received up to three times that much, and that water is now heading into town.
North Wagga Wagga is already under. The CBD, on the southern bank of the river is safe for now. The levees were strengthened after the 1974 flood. They are built to a level of 11 metres.
A peak of 10.9 is tipped for 3pm this afternoon, around the same time as you’re likely reading this. But no one quite knows how high the water will reach. Even if it only reaches 10.6m, there are fears the levee could fail.
At the Tollman Hotel a few km south of the CBD, there is no immediate flood threat and business is much more brisk than usual. The pub’s second-in-charge, Ken Lemon, says the bistro is busy and all the open supermarkets and service stations in the area are doing a roaring trade.
“There is no panic at the moment, just consistent business” he says.
Mr Lemon moved to Wagga Wagga in 1973. In 1974, the town was hit by the biggest flood since the whopper in 1853. This year’s flood could be about to top them both.
“In 1974, the place was just blanketed with water, it was impossible to get in and get out. I think the levee was strengthened after 1974, and it’s holding for now.
“The difference between 1974 and this flood is we’ve had heaps more rain. This is the first time in about 10 years that the dams are at 100 per cent capacity. When this rain started about 10 days ago, Burrinjuck Dam was about 73 per cent full. Now it’s 105 per cent.
Mr Lemon says the flood-affected folk in town are devastated, but “they’ve been through it before and they’ll recover”. Gotta love that laconic bush attitude. Wagga Wagga, our thoughts are with you this afternoon.
Some info about the Murrumbidgee
At 1609km (or exactly 1,000 miles in the old money), the Murrumbidgee is Australia’s third longest river, after the Murray and Darling. It rises in the northern reaches of the NSW Snowy Mountains, then like an uncoiling snake, it flows briefly north, then south almost to Cooma, then north again past Canberra.
As it flows past north past Canberra, the Murrumbidgee is still what you might call a mountain river with sandbanks and smooth river stones and boulders. But by the time it has turned west and reached Wagga Wagga, about halfway to its confluence with the Murray near Balranald, it is your typical muddy, slow-moving waterway. Until the rains come…
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