Towns cut off and 18,000 people evacuated as downpours intensify in Australia

Hundreds of people have been rescued and around 18,000 evacuated as record rain brought more extreme flooding to Australia’s east coast.

Emergency services fear up to 54,000 people could be displaced, with rain forecast to continue until Wednesday.

Prime minister Scott Morrison told parliament that 35 communities in northern New South Wales had been isolated and emergency services had conducted more than 700 flood rescues.

“We are grateful at this point that no lives have been lost so far,” Mr Morrison said. “But weakened foundations for buildings, for roads and trees, they all create risk, as do downed power lines and rising water levels.”

A year ago, vast swathes of the state were hit by unprecedented wildfires, but now some of the same areas are experiencing levels of rain only seen every 50 to 100 years.

Debris floats down the Nepean River at Jamisontown on the western outskirts of Sydney. Pic: AP
Debris float down the Nepean River at Jamisontown near Sydney. Pic: AP
A truck drives through a flooded road at Old Pitt Town north west of Sydney. Pic: AP
A truck drives through a flooded road at Old Pitt Town, north west of Sydney. Pic: AP

New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said up to 38 parts of the state had been declared natural disaster areas.

“I don’t know any time in our state’s history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic,” Ms Berejiklian said. “So, they are challenging times for New South Wales.”

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Bureau of Meteorology national flood services manager Justin Robinson described the rainfall as a “very significant flood event for New South Wales.”

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House swept away in Australia floods

“I’ve been a flood forecaster with the bureau for 20 years and this is probably the worst flooding that I’ve experienced,” Mr Robinson said.

Thousands of people have been affected with 40 flood warnings and 20 evacuation orders along the state’s mid north coast, and in western Sydney. Houses had been submerged and destroyed while several communities have lost power.

Heavy rain will remain a serious risk into Tuesday, with communities in these areas facing the worst flooding conditions since 1929.

On Monday, emergency services rescued around 20 dogs from rising floodwaters in Sydney’s north west.

A still image taken from video shows a flooded area following heavy rains in Port Macquarie
Thousands of people have been affected
People gather on a flooded residential street near the swollen Nepean River as the state of New South Wales experiences widespread flooding
People gather on a flooded residential street near the swollen Nepean River

The owners had left with several dogs when told to evacuate but had to call on New South Wales State Emergency Service (SES) to help with moving the remainder of their pets.

The dogs, Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds, were placed into animal carriers and then onto inflatable boats before being ferried over floodwater to safety.

“As long as all the animals and our staff are all okay, that’s really all we care about and everything else is replaceable,” the dogs’ owner Sharon told Reuters.

Most of the coastal areas in New South Wales, which is home to about a third of Australia’s 25 million people, had already seen record rainfall for March by the time the downpours hit.

Sydney on Sunday recorded the wettest day of the year with almost 11.1cm (4.4in) of rain, while some areas in the north of the state had nearly 90cm (35.4in) of rain in the last six days, more than three times the March average, government data showed.

In recent years, climate change has been cited as a likely reason for a growing number of extreme weather events hitting the country.