More than 30,000 residents in and around Sydney were ordered to evacuate or prepare to leave their homes on Monday, as Australia’s largest city braced for what could be its worst flooding in 18 months.
Parts of the city of 5 million are facing a fourth flood emergency in a year and a half after torrential rain since Friday caused dams to burst and waterways to overflow.
“The most recent information we have is that there is a strong possibility that the flooding will be worse than any of the three other floods those areas have had in the last 18 months,” Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt told Australian. Broadcasting Corp.
The current flooding could affect areas that managed to stay dry during previous floods, Watt added.
New South Wales state Premier Dominic Perrottet said 32,000 people were affected by the evacuation orders and warnings.
“You would probably expect to see that number increase over the course of the week,” Perrottet said.
Emergency services had carried out 116 flood rescues in recent days, 83 of them since 9 pm on Sunday, it said. Hundreds more requests for help were made on Monday morning.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology director Jane Golding said some areas between Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Wollongong, south of Sydney, had received more than a meter of rain in the past 24 hours. Some have received more than 1.5 meters.
“The system that has been generating this weather is showing signs of easing tomorrow, but more rain is expected throughout today,” Golding said.
Rain was forecast for the New South Wales coast, including Sydney, throughout the week, it said.
Flood danger was greatest along the Hawkesbury River in north-west Sydney and the Nepean River in western Sydney.
“The water flows very fast,” Golding said. “It’s dangerous in the rivers and we have more rain to fall, which means the risk of flash flooding is not over yet.”
State Emergency Services Commissioner Carlene York said strong winds had downed trees, damaged roofs and blocked roads. She advised against unnecessary travel.
Off the coast of New South Wales, a freighter with 21 crew members was adrift at sea after losing power. Local reports said the ship that left Wollongong on Monday morning was anchored close to shore and a tugboat was working to keep it off nearby cliffs and rocks.
A more powerful tug was on its way to tow the stranded cargo ship out to sea. A plan to airlift the ship’s crew to safety was abandoned due to bad weather.
Repeated flooding was hitting members of a riverside community southwest of Sydney, Mayor Theresa Fedeli of Camden Township on the Nepean River said.
“It’s just devastating. They just keep saying ‘devastating, not again,’” Fedeli said.
“I keep saying… ‘We have to be strong, we’ll get through this.’ But you know deep down it’s affecting a lot of people,” she added.
Perrottet said the government and communities needed to adapt to major flooding that was becoming more common in Australia’s most populous state.
“We’re seeing these flood events more frequently, there’s no question about that,” Perrottet said.
“To see what we are seeing in Sydney, there is no doubt that these events are becoming more common. And governments need to adjust and make sure we respond to the changing environment that we find ourselves in,” he added.