Rains have inundated local communities since Thursday, but parts of the east coast plunged into crisis on Saturday with a large dam overflow, swelling rivers and causing flash floods.
The state of New South Wales and the federal government have signed 16 declarations of natural disasters in regions spanning the Central and North Central Coast, from Hunter Valley near Sydney to Coffs Harbor, New South Wales Minister for Emergency Services David Elliott said at a press conference on Sunday.
No deaths have yet been reported – however, Elliott warned, “We are getting closer and closer to the inevitable death.”
“We cannot say enough: do not put yourselves in danger, do not put at risk agencies that are there to help you in the event of a flood rescue.”
State Minister Gladys Prejiclian said at the press conference that some families were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night as rivers rose to dangerous levels, and another 4,000 people – primarily in the Hawkesbury area – could be forced to evacuate on Sunday.
“This is something like what we’ve seen since the 1960s,” said Prejiklian. In parts of the state hit the hardest, this is an event that only recurs once a century. In other areas, such as Hawkesbury, she said, there has been “one event in 50 years.”
Since Thursday, the state emergency service (SES) has responded to 7,000 calls for help and conducted more than 750 flood rescues. Thousands of emergency workers and volunteers are still on the ground to help the trapped population.
Prejiklian urged residents to follow local guidelines, turn off roads, and respond to evacuation orders if needed – even for those who live in flood prone areas and may have been flooded before. “This is different,” she warned. “What we’re going through is different from what I’ve been through over the past 50 years. So please take it seriously.”
She said that the authorities do not yet know how many homes or infrastructure have been lost, but that “the damage is significant.”
Elliott said the declaration of a natural disaster could extend to the coast if the damage increases. The advertisement allows those affected to obtain financial assistance, including compensation for damage to homes, subsidies for affected livestock or agriculture, and low- or no-interest loans.
Heavy rain is expected to continue next week, with a rain wave expected to move across the state from the west, bringing heavy rain to the northern interior and northwest slopes, Agata Imelska of the Met Office said. The most affected areas could see more than four times the monthly average for March in just two days.
Wednesday will be the first day of some breaks, with light rain expected to showers.