SYDNEY– More than 30,000 residents of Sydney and surrounding areas were ordered to evacuate or prepare to abandon their homes on Monday as Australia’s biggest city braces for what could be its worst flooding in 18 months .
Parts of the city of 5 million are facing a fourth flood emergency in a year and a half after torrential rains since Friday caused dams to overflow and rivers to burst.
“The latest information we have is that there is a very good chance that the flood will be worse than any of the other three floods these areas have experienced in the last 18 months,” said the Minister of Emergency Management, Murray Watt, at Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The current floods could affect areas that managed to stay dry in previous floods, Watt added.
New South Wales state premier Dominic Perrottet said 32,000 people had been affected by evacuation orders and warnings.
“You would probably expect to see that number increase over the week,” Perrottet said.
Emergency services have carried out 116 flood rescues in recent days, including 83 since 9 p.m. Sunday, he said. Hundreds more requests for help were made Monday morning.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology official Jane Golding said some areas between Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Wollongong, south of Sydney had received more than a meter (39 inches) of rain in the past 24 hours . Some received more than 1.5 meters (59 inches).
“The system that generated this weather is showing signs of easing tomorrow, but throughout the day expect more rain,” Golding said.
Rain was forecast for the NSW coast, including Sydney, all week, she said.
Flood danger was highest along the Hawkesbury River northwest of Sydney and the Nepean River west of Sydney.
“The water is flowing really fast,” Golding said. “It’s dangerous on the rivers and we still have rain to fall, which means the risk of flash flooding isn’t over yet.”
State Emergency Services Commissioner Carlene York said high winds toppled trees, damaged roofs and blocked roads. She advises against unnecessary travel.
Off the coast of New South Wales, a freighter with 21 crew was drifting at sea after losing power. Local reports said the vessel which left Wollongong on Monday morning was anchored near the coast and a tug was struggling to keep it clear of nearby cliffs and rocks.
A more powerful tug was heading to the spot to tow the stranded freighter out to sea. A plan to airlift the ship’s crew to safety was abandoned due to bad weather.
Repeated flooding was taking its toll on members of a riverside community southwest of Sydney, said Mayor Theresa Fedeli of the Municipality of Camden on the River Nepean.
“It’s just devastating. They keep saying ‘devastating, not yet,’” Fedeli said.
“I keep saying… ‘We have to be strong, we’ll get through this. But you know deep down it really hits a lot of people hard,” she added.
Perrottet said the government and communities had to adapt to major floods becoming more frequent in Australia’s most populous state.
“We’re seeing these floods more regularly, there’s no doubt about that,” Perrottet said.
“To see what we are seeing all over Sydney, there is no doubt that these events are becoming more and more common. And governments need to adapt and ensure we respond to the changing environment in which we find ourselves. “, he added.