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Joint Media Release
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Greg Hunt MP
&
Federal Member for Paterson
Bob Baldwin MP

25 February 2005

Legacy of a disaster - our national flood warning system


50th anniversary: Hunter River floods

Australians living in flood-prone regions are far safer today thanks to the lessons learned from the Hunter River floods of 1955, according to Greg Hunt MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.

Mr Hunt said the flood devastation in NSW prompted the Australian Government to pursue a nationally coordinated approach to flood warnings.

"In 1957 the Bureau of Meteorology was asked to create a specialised hydrometeorological service, to include flood forecasting and warning services," Mr Hunt said.

"Today's flood warning services provided in conjunction with State and local governments have grown to be an essential element of the Commonwealth's efforts to minimise natural disaster impacts. There have been significant improvements in dealing with flood hazards, particularly with early warning systems. Fundamental to this is having the flood warning services as part of the operations of the national weather service, with strong connections to State and Territory Emergency Services agencies."

Mr Bob Baldwin, Federal Member for Paterson said: "This is a moment to remember the tragic loss of lives in the Hunter. Their legacy however, has lead to a service which has saved numerous lives nationally".

Bureau of Meteorology staff will join in the 50th anniversary commemoration with a display of flood warning and weather services at Maitland Town Hall on Saturday, February 26. Bureau displays will also feature at other commemorative events at Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone.

Background

In February 1955 there was record flooding in the Hunter River and neighbouring valleys. The impact was worst in the Hunter, where 14 died. This devastating flood came on top of major floods in NSW during 1949 and the early 1950s, which also claimed lives. In the lower Hunter Valley, about 1800 people were evacuated during the peak of the flood. Investigations indicated deficiencies in the local warning systems and suggested that an improved warning system would allow people to evacuate before the flood peak.

Australia's first quantitative flood forecasts and warnings were issued for the Macleay River floods in 1962.

Media Contacts:
Fiona Murphy 0423 577 045 (Mr Hunt's office)
Anna Fitzgerald 4983 1330 (Mr Baldwin's office)

Commonwealth of Australia