South Australian authorities were evacuating the small Adelaide Hills town of Echunga on Wednesday morning, and warned a dam burst could be imminent.
The South Australian State Emergency Service issued a dam failure emergency warning after the privately owned dam showed signs of structural failure to its wall.
Due to the “high risk” of the wall collapsing, the SES have warned those whose homes are in danger of flooding to relocate outside the warning area or to the Echunga Football Club.
David O’Shannessy, a spokesman for the SA SES, said that the Echunga dam’s wall had been compromised due to a combination of conditions from recent wet weather, with the dam full and the ground sodden. He said there were 60 properties in the warning area.
South Australian police said that 15 to 20 homes were in a high-risk situation, the ABC has reported.
The dam has a capacity of 10 megalitres (about the size of four Olympic swimming pools) and is located less than 500m upstream of the town. Authorities were working to spill water from the dam to lower levels, but there were concerns a dam burst could overwhelm Echunga’s drainage systems.
O’Shannessy said the owner of the private dam had been very proactive and cooperative as the water was pumped out in the controlled release.
Tina Jones, the owner of the Echunga General Store, was woken up at a quarter to six on Wednesday morning by the SES knocking on her door, telling her to evacuate. Jones said the whole town is now “dead … everyone has been packing their cars and leaving”.
She said she was concerned for her own businesses which were directly “in the line of fire”.
Police have blocked roads going into the town, which is 25km south-east of Adelaide.
The Rev Matthew Carratt, the minister at Echunga Uniting Church, told ABC Radio Adelaide that “it’s a small community and this is an unexpected event to put our town on the map.” Church members are preparing meals to provide support to those in the evacuation centre at the Echunga Football Club.
One of Jones’ employees at the general store, Loma Sillsbury, told ABC Radio Adelaide that the mood in the town was “pretty sombre”.
“A lot of people are very worried, a little panicked,” Sillsbury said. “Everyone is very worried. It is a very big dam.”