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Mar8ThuSalvation Army teams in New South Wales, Australia, respond to devastating floods March 8, 2012 by Scott Simpson
Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES) teams have been working around the clock in south-east Australia, where some areas have experienced the worst flooding in more than 150 years.
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Southern regions in the state of New South Wales (NSW) have been hardest hit, with SAES teams working to assist affected residents in many cities and towns including Wagga Wagga, Leeton, Forbes, West Wyalong, Cooma, Cowra, Goulburn and Bega.
Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes as river levels peak after a week of heavy rain. Complicating the flood crisis is huge volumes of water flowing south along already swollen river systems after significant flooding in the north of the state last month.
In Wagga Wagga, Salvation Army teams supported by volunteers have been manning a number of evacuation centres, providing meals, refreshments and a place to rest for displaced residents. They are also helping to feed emergency services personnel. Hundreds of people have received assistance at these centres.
Lieutenant Tammy Shelley from The Salvation Army's Wagga Wagga Corps says the community support has been incredible.
"We have people constantly dropping off food, blankets and pillows for people in the evacuation centre," she explains. "Coca-Cola dropped off a load of bottled water today. It's great to see the community looking out for each other."
Attention is now turning to Leeton and Forbes, which are bracing for inundation.
"We have local Salvation Army people in Leeton and also on standby in Forbes and the surrounding area where water is expected to peak in the next couple of days," says Bruce Smith, SAES Coordinator for The Salvation Army's Australian Capital Territory and South NSW Division.
In West Wyalong, Les and Noelene Barass (Salvation Army Rural Chaplains for southern NSW) have been providing meals and support to dozens of residents at an evacuation centre. They say the big challenge will come when the floodwaters recede and people begin to deal with the emotional impact of trying to rebuild shattered lives.
"In the area of Humbug Creek," says Les, "I already know of one farmer who has lost almost all his flock and another in Bland Shire who's lost around 13,000 sheep in this recent flood. These are farmers who have spent the past few years recovering from almost 10 years of drought. They've lost their livelihood and now they are completely isolated in their homes by water."
The Salvation Army also helped serve hundreds of people at evacuation centres in Cooma, Goulburn and Bega, which were among the areas to bear the early brunt of the flood crisis.
Bruce Smith says: "Our teams across the south of the state have done excellent work and—where it's needed—it is still continuing. All SAES teams will remain on alert until flood warnings across the state are lifted."