Rainfall has struck communities since Thursday, but flooding increased over the weekend. Pictures show streets, trees and houses completely submerged in flood in some areas.
Up to 38 locations across the state are considered natural disaster areas and 19 evacuation orders have been issued, with more to come, NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said in a press conference Monday.
Much of the flooding has hit the central north coast, from the Hunter Valley near Sydney to Coffs Harbor. However, the severe weather warnings have also been extended to counties on the state’s south coast for Tuesday as the rains are expected to shift. Heavy rains develop inland inland on Monday, while the Australian Meteorological Bureau in the east has warned of “life threatening” widespread floods and heavy rains.
A severe weather warning has also been issued for neighboring Queensland, with heavy rainfall likely causing flash floods in the southern and western parts of the state.
Homes ravaged by forest fires during Australia’s record bushfire season in 2019 and 2020 have now been hit by the floods.
“Communities hit by the bushfires are now hit by the floods and a previous deep drought. I know at no point in the history of our state where we had these extreme weather conditions so quickly in a mid-year 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 a breaking point.”
Some locations have seen nearly a meter of rain since Thursday, and the Sydney area is expected to see increasing precipitation of 50 to 100mm in the next 24 to 36 hours, Bureau of Meteorology’s Jane Golding said in a news conference Monday.
In the worst hit areas, rain fell up to five times the monthly average in just four days.
The huge rains were caused by two clashing weather systems, she said. A “slow moving coastal trough” and the approach of another system from the west pump tropical moisture into the state, which is then whipped up by strong easterly winds.
“With this approach of this new system from the west approaching today, we expect this heavy rain to fall in areas that haven’t seen so much rain in the past few days, and we expect the flood risk in those areas as well develop, “said Golding.
Residents were asked to monitor the weather warnings and follow the advice of emergency services.
According to Berejiklian, the state rescue service (SES) has responded to 8,000 calls for help since Thursday. Thousands of rescue workers and volunteers are on site helping trapped residents.
BOM’s national flood service manager Justin Robinson said in a press conference Monday that the extreme weather was a record-breaking “nationwide flood event,” and the flooding on the Hawkesbury River, which runs north and west of Sydney, was as bad as a similar incident from 1961.
“I’ve been a flood predictor in the office for 20 years and this is probably the worst flood I’ve seen and had to predict,” he said. “We have a flood watch that covers all the way from the Queensland border to the Victoria border along all of these coastal rivers.”
Increasing rainfall in the next few days is likely to lead to renewed flooding in many communities already affected, said Robinson.
An “inland sea”
The NSW SES said that many areas across the state “resemble an inland sea” and once the rain stops and the water begins to live there will be “massive joint cleanup efforts.”
To help with the recovery, Prime Minister Berejiklian said she spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about calling for military assistance. Berejiklian said the state may need support from the Australian Defense Force (ADF). “It is an evolving situation, if we need your support we will ask for it,” she said.