Defiant residents refuse to leave besieged town

DEFIANT residents were ignoring pleas from authorities to evacuate the northern Victorian town of Nathalia last night amid plummeting confidence that it could hold back rising flood waters.

DEFIANT residents were ignoring pleas from authorities to evacuate the northern Victorian town of Nathalia last night amid plummeting confidence that it could hold back rising flood waters.

Businesses remained open and hundreds of residents declined to leave as billions of litres of water sat ominously behind levees metres from the northern Victorian town's centre.

Leakage near one of the town's main pubs early yesterday sparked a flurry of activity as emergency crews rushed in the darkness to build a secondary levee from thousands of sandbags. The leak, caused by a build-up of water under the road, was contained within hours but confirmed the vast majority of the town's 1500 residents remained at risk.

SES divisional commander Kris Parker told The Age this week that homes in the centre of town were likely to be saved.

But incident controller Stephen Warren said yesterday morning's leak had nearly led to the centre of town being flooded, and it was among several leaks that had damaged confidence.

He urged about 200 residents at a town meeting to leave because their safety could not be guaranteed. But when they were asked who would evacuate only about 15 hands appeared.

Despite predictions that the water will remain near its current level until at least Sunday, long-term resident Don Hutchins spoke for many when he said he thought authorities had overstated the danger. "I'm just a bit sceptical . . . about whether the information is correct or whether it will go," he said. "My wife works at the hospital and they're staying."

Residents from a retirement home were evacuated yesterday and several people waited for a school bus commandeered by authorities to take residents to Shepparton. But even volunteer bus driver Myra Pankhurst was staying put after finishing her dropoffs, saying most people were staying because they thought they would be safe.

"I'm just hoping everyone will be OK," she said.

The water was expected to peak last night at 3.3 metres, 15 centimetres above earlier predictions, but authorities said this would not spill over the top of the levees.

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