Flooding hits New South Wales

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The Independent Online

Emergency services in Australia today used helicopters to drop supplies to families stranded by flooding that has left swaths of New South Wales state under water.

Emergency services in Australia today used helicopters to drop supplies to families stranded by flooding that has left swaths of New South Wales state under water.

The Prime Minister John Howard said the federal government would consider giving financial aid to farmers.

He said: "Some people are in desperate straits ... and we'll be looking at the respective responsibilities of the New South Wales and commonwealth governments."

Following a scheduled Cabinet meeting, the federal government approved a 10 million dollar (U.S. dlrs 5.2 million) emergency fund to help farmers cover immediate costs.

More than 300 people have been evacuated since Sunday and the state government estimated as much as 215,000 square kilometers (86,000 square miles) - an area about half the size of California - were affected by the flooding.

Cotton and wheat crops across the region were destroyed and houses inundated after Australia's wettest November on record flooded 13 river systems.

Returning from a helicopter trip over part of the inundated district, New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr said he hoped no more rain would fall.

"To my untutored eye the last thing we want is more rain this afternoon," Carr said. "I saw the dire consequences if the weather turns later today."

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Bob Moore said there was a chance of showers and thunderstorms later Tuesday but that rainfall would become more isolated in coming days.

State Emergency Services, the government agency coordinating relief efforts, said flood waters were still rising in at least three towns - Wee Waa, in the state's north, Gunnedah, about 290 kilometers (miles) north of Sydney and Maitland, only 150 kilometers (miles) north of Sydney.

Sydney was not affected.

In Tamworth, a major provincial town close to Gunnedah that was split in two on Monday by the flooded River Peel, residents were beginning to mop up as the deluge started to recede.

Farming representatives say the damage bill is likely to top half a billion dollars (U.S. dlrs 265 million).

Tamworth lawmaker Tony Windsor said some farmers had lost their crop for the third year running.

"No-one's income can withstand that," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"The farming community is built to withstand an occasional disaster but three in a row it just can't handle."

Yesterday, the state government declared the worst-hit regions natural disaster areas, entitling residents and businesses to emergency relief and low-interest loans. The regions covered were extended Tuesday to cover flooded valleys of two more rivers.

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