SYDNEY, Australia: About 18,000 Australians have been evacuated from flooding across New South Wales (NSW) as heavy rain continues to batter the east coast.
Days of torrential downpours have caused rivers and dams to overflow around Sydney – the state capital – and in south-east Queensland.
Officials say the “one-in-a-50-year event” may continue all week and have urged the public to exercise caution.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has offered funds for those forced to flee.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said no deaths had been reported by late Monday – describing it as “a miracle given what we have been through”.
But there has been widespread damage in the affected areas, which are home to about a third of Australia’s 25 million people.
Berejiklian said many of the communities “being battered by the floods” had been affected by bushfires and drought the previous summer.
“I don’t know any time in state history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
Emergency services have conducted at least 750 rescues, including winching people from cars. One stranded family was lifted from their flooded home by a helicopter.
Responders also saved a family with an infant from flooding in their home in Sydney’s west.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has said the rainfall – up to 900mm in some areas – has been “extraordinary”. Many areas across NSW resembled an “inland sea”, the bureau said.
⚠️Moderate to Major #Flood Warning issued for the #Orara River at #Glenreagh and #CouttsCrossing. See https://t.co/KF6w0oqZEb for details and updates; follow advice from @NSWSES. #NSWFloods pic.twitter.com/kqZ8NSS7X8
— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) March 22, 2021
On Monday, authorities were most concerned about those in the low-lying areas north and west of Sydney, the NSW Central Coast and the Hawkesbury Valley.
The flooding has caused havoc across NSW, forcing 15,000 evacuations on the state’s Mid-North Coast and a further 3,000 in Sydney, officials said.
Swollen rivers cut off roads and bridges and forced about 150 schools to shut on Monday.
There have been images of dead wildlife, livestock floating through flooded areas and rows of houses engulfed up to their windows.
The Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers – which border Sydney to the north and west – reached higher levels on Monday than during a devastating flood in 1961. Forecasters said the Hawkesbury river could peak at around 42 feet (13 metres) later in the day.
In addition, the Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main water source, has began spilling over for the first time in five years. Authorities said it was discharging about 500 gigalitres a day – equivalent to the volume of Sydney Harbour.
On Sunday a young couple saw their house north of Sydney swept away by flash floods on what should have been their wedding day.
Shocked neighbours filmed the uprooted three-bedroom cottage bobbing along the Manning river after it burst its banks.
Flights have been suspended at Newcastle Airport – about 17 kilometres (72 miles) north of Sydney – after the runway flooded. Authorities have also reported landslides and damage to homes from a mini-tornado that hit west of Sydney on Saturday