Australians are returning home after the floods have retreated

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© Reuters. Severe flooding affects the state of New South Wales

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australians hit by devastating floods returned to their homes Thursday as the skies cleared and authorities accelerated cleanup after the largest flood in their most populous state in more than half a century.

For five days, relentless rains rained the banks of the river, flooding homes, roads, bridges and farms and cutting off entire cities in eastern Australia, forcing more than 40,000 people to move to safe zones.

The water continued to flow into the river basins even after conditions eased in recent days due to heavy rains, though there were signs of relief.

“The best advice I received this morning is that most of the river systems we believe are at their peak,” New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said during a televised press conference.

“And now we are considering … which churches can return in the next few days, and we just ask for patience from everyone.”

Six evacuation orders have been overturned, with 3,000 people returning to their homes in the past 24 hours, but around 20,000 are still waiting at rescue centers, Gladys said.

Two people died after their vehicles got caught in the flood when authorities continued to warn people not to drive through the flood.

The Australian Weather Agency said thousands of people in several parts of New South Wales remained on evacuation station from rising floods, despite forecasters seeing no rain for the week.

“Although the sun is shining now, the danger is not over,” the agency said in a statement.

Nearly 300 defense workers would join state emergency services as of Thursday to step up recovery efforts and clean up debris.

Around 40% of the country’s 25 million people were affected by the severe weather system, which stretched over an area the size of Alaska and affected every mainland state or area but one.

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