Rivers across NSW are starting to swell dangerous amounts with some residents in Sydney’s south-west told to evacuate or face being cut off from power and food overnight.
Residents in parts of Sydney’s west have been told to evacuate as a deadly weather system that caused devastation in Queensland and northern NSW sweeps down Australia’s coast.
The dangerous weather began its journey south on Tuesday, with a low-pressure system developing off the northern coast of the state expected to strengthen into a major east coast low in the coming hours, prompting authorities to issue severe weather warnings from Newcastle to below Bega.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet ominously warned the “worst could be yet to come” for the rest of the state.
Evacuation order for parts of Western Sydney
Residents in Milperra, Chipping Norton and Lansvale in the city’s south-west have been warned rising waters in the Georges River could leave them “isolated”.
“You may be trapped without power, water and other essential services and it may be too dangerous to rescue you,” an SES flood warning read.
The river is expected to reach moderate flood levels at Milperra and Liverpool by Thursday morning.
NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole said residents should remain cautious about the ever-changing conditions.
“If you are asked to leave, please leave. Please do this for your own safety. Please do not contemplate on staying. Please do the right thing and don‘t risk your life at this point in time,” he said.
Gale force winds forecast
As the system deepens into an east coast low, it will bring “strong to gale force winds” and “huge swells” and is set to hit Sydney, the Central Coast and the Illawarra the hardest, Sky Weather chief meteorologist Tom Saunders said.
“[Some areas will see] over 100mm, some areas will see over 200mm of rain, and if we see some thunderstorms in the mix, then we could see life threatening flash flooding with 2000mm in just a six hour period,” Mr Saunders warned.
Sydney is set to be on the receiving end of the worst conditions over the next 48 hours, with SES spokesman Adam Jones asking residents to help the organisation by readying sandbags and preparing their homes.
“We are asking people to make sure your gutters are clean, if there is something to fly away, such as a trampoline, tie it down. Prepare yourself. Get some sandbags if your area is prone to flooding,” he said.
“The preparation stops jobs coming through and helps us. The less we have it makes a huge difference.”
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Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) senior meteorologist Jackson Browne told Today this morning that the low-pressure system that has caused the unprecedented rain and flooding would threaten a large part of NSW as it moves south, including Newcastle, the Sydney metropolitan area, Wollongong and the Blue Mountains.
The current forecast is for damaging winds and heavy rainfall to arrive today and carry overnight into Thursday. Sydney is expected to see up to 150mm throughout Wednesday.
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Mr Browne said additional rainfall was also likely in areas already affected by flooding, including southeast Queensland and northeast NSW “with two storm days on Thursday and Friday, bringing with it damaging winds and some heavy rainfall”.
“It’s not the sort of rainfall that we saw on the weekend, but because everything’s so saturated, the bar is pretty low: Any rainfall will lead to some sort of flash flooding and additional rises,” he said.
Locals have been encouraged to pack emergency supplies and prepare for possible evacuation.
More information on evacuation alerts and centres is available at the SES website.
Major flood warning for Hawkesbury and Nepean
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a warning for “major flooding similar to March 2021” in the Nepean and Hawkesbury River catchments.
“River level rises are occurring along the Nepean River where major flooding is possible from Wednesday afternoon,” the Bureau said.
“Along the Hawkesbury major flooding is possible from overnight Wednesday into Thursday at Penrith, North Richmond and Windsor based on forecast rainfall.”
A major flood warning is also in place for the Clarence River at Grafton, Ulmera and Maclean for the remainder of Wednesday into Thursday.
More information on weather warnings in place is available at the BOM website.
Conditions in NSW ‘unfathomable’
Asked whether NSW could have been better prepared for the current emergency, Deputy Premier Paul Toole said the conditions were “unfathomable”.
“Everything is soaked. I mean we’ve got dams that are full, our riverways are full. The ground is saturated. Depending where rainfall lands, how heavy it is and how quickly it actually floods, that’s where we’re seeing areas of flash flooding,” Mr Toole told reporters.
“We’ve got levee banks around Lismore. They’re 10m. No one would have predicted we were going to see a 14.4m rainfall event or flooding in that area … You can always say ‘what if’, but we’re talking about 180mm of rain that fell in a 30-minute period of time [in Lismore].
“That’s seven inches of rain in old language. That is unfathomable. That’s an incredible amount of rainfall coming from the sky, landing in some part of Lismore. It doesn’t matter how high your levee banks are, you’ll see flooding with that rainfall.”
Third body found in Lismore
Authorities have recovered the body of a man in the main street of Lismore, marking NSW’s fourth death from this week’s flood emergency.
The discovery follows those of two women, both in their 80s, who were found inside their homes yesterday.
NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole said his thoughts were with those who had lost loved ones.
“We know in realistic terms we may see more loss of life over the coming days,” he said.
“This is a catastrophic event.”
Warragamba Dam spills over
Sydney’s primary water supply, the Warragamba Dam, has started to spill, after reaching capacity yesterday.
Water NSW warned it may continue for up to two weeks, threatening thousands of homes in the Hawkesbury and Nepean area.
NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole urged residents in the region to prepare themselves for the possibility they will be evacuated.
“Hearing from the Bureau of Meteorology there are real concerns over the next 24 hours to the amount of rainfall predicted. People need to prepare themselves to be evacuating if they are required to do so,” Mr Toole told reporters during an update.
“Don’t hold back. Don’t stay there. Don’t say the floodwaters never reached your house last time. This may see more people needing to be evacuated. People need to be on alert right now.”
Ballina evacuated as rising water wreaks ‘havoc’
The entire town of Ballina has been ordered to evacuate, as more than 2.5 metres of floodwater are predicted to hit the northern NSW area today.
Ballina Shire Mayor Sharon Cadwallader once again urged residents not to become complacent as the town braces for “unprecedented” flooding, with an evacuation order going out at 12.15am.
Among those evacuated were 55 patients from Ballina Hospital, who were moved to a makeshift emergency department at Xavier Catholic College.
While the final people were evacuated from Cherry Street Bowling Club at 3am, Ms Cadwallader told Today this morning that now was not the time to relax.
“Water is unpredictable. You really don’t know what it’s going to do today, so it is an evolving situation. We’re monitoring it very closely,” she said.
“We can’t rest on our laurels or become complacent about this. We don’t want people to think this is just a normal event. It is far from a normal event.”
The manager of Ballina’s community radio station, Jenny Ellenbroek, said flood water was at the door of the Cherry Street building, while the CBD lost power around 8.30am.
“The water is at the doors of the council chambers and the Paradise FM station – that whole Cherry Street area, the water is now knee-deep,” she said.
“High tide was at 9am, the water didn’t come in and we hope we’ve dodged a bullet.”
West Ballina was totally inundated, she added, saying that “lots of businesses out there have gone under”.
“We are in absolute awe and shock of this, because this is not generally what happens in Ballina, but of course it’s collided with a 1.8 metre high tide, it’s creating havoc,” she said.
NSW SES spokesman Andrew McCullough said warnings now cover an area of 10,800 people, with authorities predicting around 6000 properties in the Ballina area will be impacted by the rising Richmond River.
“Because it’s tidal, so close to the ocean, we will be watching this very closely over the coming hours where it ends up,” he said.
“We’ve sent out evacuations, certainly as a precaution, because we believe there will be a lot of water in Ballina in the coming hours.”
Third flood-related death in NSW
A third flood-related death has been confirmed in NSW. It comes after the body of an 80-year-old-woman was found inside her Lismore home on Tuesday.
NSW Police said a second woman, also aged in her 80s, was found inside a South Lismore home around 3.30pm yesterday.
She is yet to be formally identified.
Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg told ABC News Breakfast this morning there was limited information about the circumstances in which the second woman died.
“All I know myself is that it is another elderly person,” he said.
“I believe the family has not yet been contacted, so we can’t release any more information at this stage.”
Sydney commuters urged to avoid unnecessary travel
Sydney commuters have been advised to avoid unnecessary travel.
Transport for NSW chief operations officer Howard Collins also said that those who must travel should allow plenty of extra time with Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink networks expected to be impacted.
“Our number one priority is safety. Motorists should exercise extreme caution and never drive through floodwaters,” he said.
“We ask our customers to postpone their journey if possible or to allow plenty of additional travel time. We want to ensure everyone arrives at their destination safely.”
Speaking to 2GB’s Ben Fordham, NSW Transport Minister David Elliott said the “awful” weather was causing delays on the city’s public transport system but adjustments were being made for the morning commute.
“As we forecast yesterday, the ferry services out of Manly have been dropped to every 40 minutes … commuters need to be conscious of extra time being required,” Mr Elliott said.
“The Parramatta River being what it is means the river service will be stopping at Rydalmere but there are arrangements for transfers between Parramatta and Rydalmere.”
Trains on the Blue Mountains line are also experiencing delays, but, Mr Elliott said, the rest of the network was so far coping fine.
“We’re talking about some of the most ruthless storms we’ve seen in this state in the past decade … commuters can have confidence in their normal journey with a few exceptions, but please be very cautious,” he said.
Wet weather to last into the weekend
Floodwaters are still flowing through many rivers and towns in northern NSW and southeast Queensland, with major flood warnings and evacuation orders still in place for multiple areas.
Emergency Services Minister Steph Cook said NSW has “never seen floods like this” in the northern parts of the state.
“The scenes have been truly distressing,” she said. “Things are not going to get much better up there for a little while.”
NSW SES deputy commissioner Daniel Austin told ABC News Breakfast authorities expect the treacherous weather conditions to last into the weekend.
“We’re expecting to see very heavy rainfall today. It is already raining in most of these parts now. It’s started either late yesterday or overnight, depending on where you are,” he said.
“We’re expecting to see that very heavy rainfall intensify through the day, continue through tomorrow, and probably before it starts to back off, we’ll probably be into the weekend. So a long way in front, with that heavy wind, with that heavy rain comes strong and damaging winds as well, as is normal with an east coast low.”
Mr Austin urged people to avoid unnecessary travel, and for those who live in a low-lying area near a river to be on alert for flood risk.
“We’re also going to see quite a bit of flash flooding because of the intense nature of some of the rainfall,” he said.
“So, again, we’re asking people to limit their non-essential travel. Stay off the roads as best as possible. But very much we’re asking people to be aware of their surroundings. Don’t just stay indoors, keep your eyes out to what is going on around you. Stay across the warnings, be aware of your circumstances.”