Aid call as residents return after floods

Spiders webs caused by recent flooding. Photo / Supplied
Spiders webs caused by recent flooding. Photo / Supplied

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will face calls to increase government aid as she tours flood-ravaged Wagga Wagga to assess damage in the southwestern New South Wales city.

The State Emergency Service gave the all-clear for evacuated residents to return home yesterday.

But about 1000 residents in North Wagga Wagga, the worst hit area, still face days away from home, with most of the suburb at least 1m under water and severe damage to properties.

"North Wagga is still under water and they probably will be until the end of this week," City of Wagga Wagga councillor Yvonne Braid said.

"We just hope the federal Government comes up with some extra dollars for all those unfortunate people."

City councillor Alan Brown says the repair bill for local roads alone will exceed A$50 million ($64 million).

"There'll be a great deal of road damage ... I'm already hearing anecdotal reports of quite a bit of infrastructure damage, bridges, roads, culverts."

Braid and Brown say they would press Gillard for extra recovery funding.

It could have been worse for the city. The Murrumbidgee River peaked at 10.56m on Tuesday night - a whisker beneath the level predicted to endanger the city's levee and potentially swamp 3000 CBD properties.

A motorist had to be rescued yesterday after he was swept away in floodwaters 15km west of the city.

Westpac helicopter general manager Stephen Leahy said the man got into trouble after leaving his car.

"We found him clinging to a tree stump," he told Macquarie Radio.

It's not just the people of Wagga Wagga who were forced to leave their homes this week.

Thousands of spiders also fled and are now busily re-spinning their webs en masse in grass and bushland along Horse Shoe Road, about 10 minutes' drive from the centre of the city in southwestern NSW.

The tiny spiders, which are up to 1cm long, belong to the Linyphiidae family.

They are commonly referred to as sheet weavers because of the shape of their webs, or money spiders because of the superstition they bring good fortune if they land on you.

In their quest to move to safer or better ground, the spiders let out individual strings of silk that catch the wind, lifting them up into the air and away.

"The behaviour is called ballooning - that is how they disperse", said Graham Milledge, entomology collections manager at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Flood events typically trigger mass ballooning events.

"They often do it as a way of dispersing and getting into a new area but, in an event like this, they are just trying to escape the floods," Milledge said. "They often land in the same place and that is why you get this large mass of them."

While central Wagga Wagga dodged a bullet, the misery continues elsewhere in the Riverina district and central west NSW.

More than 600 people were evacuated from Griffith, North Yenda and Beelbangera. Further north, more than 1000 people were evacuated from Forbes.

An aerial search has so far failed to find two young men missing in or near flood-affected towns in northwest Queensland.

Three spotter planes are covering the area between Normanton and the town of Burketown, which lies 200km to the west.

Luke Andus and Solomon Love, both 19, left Normanton on Saturday morning for Doomadgee, 240km west, in a white Nissan ute.

They never arrived.

Nervous residents of the northern Victorian town of Nathalia are desperately hoping an emergency levee built to protect 170 homes will hold as Broken Creek keeps rising.

The creek was expected to reach a peak of 3.1 to 3.15m early today.

About 30 Victorian towns have been hit by floodwaters.

- AAP

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