In Echuca on Wednesday morning, the flood level was 94.96 meters (above sea level), two centimeters above what authorities believe will be the peak of the Murray River.
The evacuation order was put in place after the Campaspe River overflowed 10 days ago, but some residents whose homes were not behind a makeshift dam built last week stayed to protect their homes, even though they said they had received no further help from the authorities.
Efforts to protect seven houses on Goulburn Road, in the city’s east, ended around 3am on Wednesday when a sandbag wall collapsed under the weight of water.
“We all fought really hard, but it is what it is,” Brett Lesky said as he began to clean up the trash from his mother, Robin McCluskey’s board.
McCluskey said she felt a strange sense of relief.
“I am very humbled to think that we have received so much help, [but] it’s not just me and my neighbors there. It’s all about the community – they need help so much [for the clean-up efforts],” she said.
Beside her, Adam Klent was trawling knee-deep water in his yard with a fishing net. He had already retrieved two goldfish that escaped from the pond when the sandbag wall broke.
“[Now] “I’m number three,” he said. “I’ll get a team together if I can.”
Victoria’s Emergency Management said it was unlikely but not impossible that floodwaters in Echuca, now at their highest level in more than a century, would rise further.
The flood levels are not expected to recede significantly for the next seven to 10 days, but life in the city center was slowly returning to normal on Wednesday, with some merchants removing sandbags from their storefronts and preparing to reopen.
Around 100 residents who were evicted from their homes are staying at the former Victoria Quarantine Center in Mickleham.
Emergency Services Minister Jacqueline Symes said on Wednesday that this remained a short- to medium-term option for those affected by the flooding, and announced that a temporary village of caravans and modular homes would be built in Elmore for displaced residents from nearby Rochester.
“We’re going to have about 350 residential units,” Symes said. “It will start to increase by the end of the week.”
Symes said many Rochester residents affected by the flood wanted to be close to their homes.
“What they expect from the government, what they want in response to this flood, is the ability to stay close to their community to ensure that they can continue to work, rebuild and be able to stay connected as one.”
By Wednesday, six relief centers were in place in Victoria and more than 400 roads were closed due to flooding.
Bendigo’s main emergency center will close from Thursday after sheltering up to 280 people at its peak.
Symes said about 14,000 of the 32,500 applications for emergency payments received by the government had been processed.
She said the threat of flooding had not passed, with showers and thunderstorms in central and eastern Victoria on Wednesday and later in the week and into Sunday.
Forecasts mean East Gippsland residents are on high alert for the first time since the flood crisis began in Victoria, with major flooding on the Snowy River from Buchan to Orbost from Wednesday.
East Gippsland Mayor Mark Reeves said Marlow Road was closed due to flooding and farms in nearby areas such as Jarrahmand were flooded.
Residents remain on high alert in Shepparton, Seymour, Kyneton, Melbourne, Bacchus Marsh and Wangaratta as flood levels are expected to rise on Wednesday.
The EMS urged people in these areas to exercise extra caution and avoid driving through flood waters.
Emergency services said the peak of the River Murray was moving and could increase flooding downstream in Barham. Severe flooding could occur in Torumbara this weekend, with Swan Hill likely to exceed minor flood levels on Saturday and experience major flooding late next week.
Meanwhile, Maribyrnong City Council has resumed clean-up efforts after litter collection was briefly halted due to extreme weather conditions.
At least 1,500 tonnes of rubbish has been removed from Maribyrnong as residents assess the extent of the flood damage.
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