Rains have been affecting communities since Thursday, but flooding intensified over the weekend, with images showing roads, trees and houses completely submerged in flood waters in some areas.
Up to 38 locations across the state are considered natural disaster zones and 19 evacuation orders have been issued, with potentially more to come, NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejikliansaid told a news conference Monday.
Most of the flooding has hit the north mid coast, from Hunter Valley near Sydney to Coffs Harbor, but harsh weather warnings have also been extended to include districts on the state’s southern coast for Tuesday as rains are forecast to shift. Heavy rains are also occurring inland in the north of the state on Monday, while in the east, the Australian Meteorological Bureau has warned of major “life-threatening” floods and heavy rain.
A severe weather warning has also been issued for neighboring Queensland, with heavy rains likely to bring immediate flooding to the southern and western parts of the state.
Homes that were destroyed by fires during Australia’s record fire season in 2019 and 2020 are now being affected by floods.
“The communities that were hit by the fires are now being hit by floods and a deep drought before that. I do not know at any time in the history of our state where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such a rapid succession between of a pandemic, “said NSW Prime Minister Berejiklian.
“You have gone through three or four life-changing incidents on top of each other. It can make you feel like you are at the breaking point.”
Some places have seen close to a meter (39 inches) of rain since Thursday and increased rainfall of 50-100 mm (2-4 inches) is expected across the Sydney region over the next 24-36 hours, said Jane Golding of Bureau of Meteorology. at a news conference Monday.
The worst affected areas have seen rainfall up to five times the monthly average of March falling in just four days.
Heavy rains have been driven by two colliding weather systems, she said. A “slow trough in coastal motion” and the approach of another system coming from the west is throwing tropical humidity into the state, which is then being whipped by strong East winds.
“With this approach of this new system coming from the west which is approaching today, we are expecting this heavy rain to fall in areas that have not seen so much rain in recent days, and we are expecting the risk of floods also occur in those areas, “Golding said.
Residents have been asked to monitor weather warnings and heed emergency advice.
As of Thursday, the State Emergency Service (SES) has responded to 8,000 calls for help, according to Berejiklian. Thousands of emergency workers and volunteers are on the ground, helping stranded residents.
BOM national flood services manager Justin Robinson told a news conference Monday that extreme weather is a record “flood event across the state” and flooding on the Hawkesbury River, which runs north and west of Sydney, is as bad as the similar incident of 1961.
“I have been a flood forecaster at the Bureau for 20 years and this is probably the worst flood I have ever experienced and I have had to predict,” he said. “We have a flood hour covering the entire route from the Queensland border to the Victoria border, along all those coastal rivers.”
Increased rainfall over the next few days is expected to bring renewed flooding to many communities that have already been affected, Robinson said.
An ‘inland sea’
NSW SES said many areas across the state “resemble an inland sea” and once the rain stops and the waters start to stand still, there will be a “massive combined effort to clean up”.
To help with the recovery, Prime Minister Berejiklian said she had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about calling for a military reserve. Berejiklian said the state may need the help of the Australian Defense Force (ADF). “It’s an evolving situation, if we need their support we’ll ask for it,” she said.
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