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SA declares major emergency in response to big wet

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The South Australian Government has declared a major emergency, as destructive rains and floods overwhelm remote areas of the state.

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Premier Steven Marshall on Thursday said the declaration would remain in force for 14 days, and Police Commissioner Grant Stevens a host of new powers.

“This will provide a state coordinator – who is of course the police commissioner in South Australia – with the additional responsibilities and, if you like, the powers to do with issues associated with heavy vehicle movements, to do with food security, and also to deal with supporting very remote and isolated communities,” Marshall said.

It comes after wild weather across remote areas of the state.

That includes the lower Eyre Peninsula town of Cummins, which recorded a 23.2mm drenching on Thursday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, with a humid morning storm putting the local showgrounds underwater.

Peelina Creek, around 15km east of Cummins, breached its banks and began flooding westward on Thursday morning, covering the highway into Cummins and damaging houses along the entrance to the town, according to a situation update provided by the Lower Eyre Peninsula District Council.

Around six to 12 houses have been affected by Thursday’s storm, Lower Eyre Peninsula District Council Mayor Jo-Anne Quigley estimates.

Six roads in Cummins were flooded on Thursday, including the town’s highway. Overall, the town has received 100mm of rain in the past seven days.

The local council has also reported widespread damage to sheds, fences and farming infrastructure across the whole district due to wind and hail from the storm.

Quigley said she had never witnessed such a storm in Cummins.

“The humidity that we’ve had in the last week here in Cummins and on the Peninsula has just been quite unprecedented,” she said.

However, she said the floodwaters have receded quickly allowing residents to begin a clean-up of the town.

“It’s really just the clean up now, [there’s] a lot mud,” she said.

“Over the coming weeks as a council, we’ll look to see what else we can do to mitigate this sort of thing happening again in the future and look at costings, budget.

“At the moment a lot of people are just trying to get their head around it, trying to understand ‘wow this really happened, and it happened to me’.

“[We’re] trying to give everyone a little bit of space to just deal with that, but … we’ll put our hand up to help in any way we can.”

The BoM also recorded 47.2mm of rain in Port Lincoln on Thursday while Coulta, around 30km west of Cummins, received 38.8mm.

It comes only days after severe thunderstorms hit towns further north on the Eyre Peninsula, with Kimba receiving 213mm of rain in the past seven days.

Key road and rail transport routes remain closed across the state due to damage from this week’s storms.

A 250km stretch of the Stuart Highway between Glendambo and Coober Pedy has now been closed for five days due to floodwaters.

The closure has forced trucks serving the Adelaide to Darwin route to take a “massive detour” through New South Wales and Queensland, SA Freight Council Executive Officer Evan Knapp says.

“Roads north of Port Augusta are basically untravellable in South Australia right now unless you’re travelling to Roxby Downs,” Knapp said.

“There’s a lot of disruption at the moment, but in my experience, the definition of a good logistics or trucking provider is their ability to deal with these sorts of situations – they’re certainly not uncommon from our perspective.

“But it’s certainly another one on top of COVID that isn’t particularly needed right now.”

Knapp said it was unclear when the roads would be open again.

“It’s very hard when you’re talking about water in the outback because you’re basically waiting for that water to subside before roadworks can get in and be done,” he said.

“The north of our state is wetter than it’s ever been in my lifetime.”

Rail lines from SA to the Northern Territory as well as Western Australia are also experiencing prolonged closures due to track damage.

Damage to SA-NT rail tracks (Photo: supplied/Australian Rail Track Corporation)

A spokesperson for the Australian Rail Track Corporation said it would take at least 12 days complete the repairs.

“Repair works are underway where possible, however additional damage has been identified following our initial inspections,” the spokesperson said.

“Up to eight affected locations are inaccessible due to the flood waters.”

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