Australian authorities were preparing to evacuate thousands of more people on Monday from flood-affected suburbs on the western fringes of Sydney, the country’s biggest city, with another day of heavy rain triggering the worst floods in 60 years.
Rivers across the state of New South Wales (NSW) have burst their banks amid three days of unrelenting rain.
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The Warragamba Dam – the source of much of Sydney’s drinking water – overflowed on Saturday prompting evacuations, school closures and warnings of worse to come.
“Flooding is likely to be higher than any floods since Nov 1961,” NSW emergency services said in a tweet late on Sunday.
Authorities expect the wild weather to continue until Wednesday.
The fast-moving floodwaters have inundated houses, swept away vehicles and farm animals, and submerged roads, bridges, houses and farms, television and social media footage showed.
The worst affected areas so far have been in the state’s north, where State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the region was experiencing a “one-in-100-year event”.
In Windsor, a town north west of Sydney, Al Jazeera’s Nicola Gage said flood waters have inundated the town’s main bridge and many buildings.
“This really is a crisis that’s unfolding across Australia’s east coast,” she said. “Some are saying this is like an inland lake here in New South Wales.”
“More than 18,000 people have been told to leave their homes. And floodwaters are erratic at the moment. They are changing quickly,” she said. “So, authorities are calling on people to heed instructions and saying that if you need to evacuate, do so quickly. But for some, authorities are warning it is too late and if floodwaters are cutting off areas, you should not be going through them.”
Nearly 2,000 people have already been evacuated from low lying areas, according to the NSW emergency services. More than 200 schools have been closed. No casualties have been reported so far.
The floods come just a year after unprecedented climate-change bushfires, which followed a prolonged drought that had also seen Sydney introduce water restrictions.
“People here are feeling like its one emergency after the other,” said Gage.
Meanwhile, more heavy rain is expected across large parts of NSW and up into Brisbane, weather forecasters said due to the combination of a tropical low over northern Western Australia and a coastal trough off NSW.
“These two moisture feeds are merging and will create a multi-state rain and storm band from Monday,” the Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.
‘Potentially very dangerous’
David Littleproud, the Australian minister for agriculture, described the situation as “potentially very dangerous” and said “everyone needs to understand the magnitude and gravity of what could become over the next 24-48 hours”.
“All the catchments are soaked at the moment. Anything that adds on to this has got to flow somewhere,” he said from Canberra, the Australian capital.
“To put this in perspective, in the Hawkesbury-Nepean system, if we get rainfall potentially in the wrong areas, this is about 54,000 residents that could be impacted. So this is a very large event,” he said referring to the two rivers that encircle Sydney’s metropolitan region.
A severe flood warning has been issued for large parts of NSW as well as neighbouring Queensland to the north.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a “very testing time” for residents of Australia’s east coast.
“These are very, very serious and very severe storms and floods, and it’s a very complex weather system too,” he told radio station 2GB on Monday.
Sydney recorded its wettest day of the year on Sunday with almost 111 millimetres (4.4 inches) of rain.
Some regions on the state’s north coast received nearly 900 mm (35.4 inches) of rain in the last six days, more than three times the March average, government data showed.
Australia is due to begin the first big public phase of vaccine distribution on Monday although the programme has slipped behind the government’s announced timetable due to supply and delivery issues.
Health officials have said the rain and floods will delay the already halting roll-out of coronavirus vaccines in Sydney and surrounding areas.
Source: Al Jazeera