SYDNEY (AP) — More than 30,000 residents of Sydney and its suburbs were told to evacuate or abandon their homes Monday as Australia’s largest city faced its fourth and worst flooding in a year and a half.
Days of rain overflowed dams and breached their banks, bringing a fresh flood emergency to parts of the city of 5 million people.
“The latest information we have is that the flooding will be worse than any of the other three floods that have hit those areas in the last 18 months,” Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said.
Watt added that the current floods could affect areas that were spared during previous floods in March last year, March and April this year.
New South Wales state premier Dominic Perrott said 32,000 people were affected by evacuation orders and warnings.
“You can expect that number to increase during the week,” Perrotte said.
Emergency services carried out numerous flood rescues on Sunday and early Monday and received hundreds of calls for help.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology manager Jane Golding said some areas between Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Wollongong, south of Sydney, had received up to one meter (39 inches) of rain in the previous 24 hours. Some have gained more than 1.5 meters (59 inches).
Those totals are close to the average annual rainfall for coastal New South Wales.
“The system that is producing this weather is showing signs that it will taper off tomorrow, but throughout today, expect more rain,” Golding said.
He said rain will continue throughout the week along the coast of New South Wales, including Sydney.
Sydney could get up to 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) of rain on Monday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
The Hawkesbury River in north-west Sydney and the Nepean River in Sydney’s west were at the highest risk of flooding.
The bureau said severe flooding hit the Nepean communities of Menangle and Wallasia on Sydney’s south-western edge on Monday afternoon.
There was also heavy flooding in Hawkesbury, North Richmond, on Sydney’s north-west edge. The Hawkesbury communities of Windsor and Lower Portland are expected to flood Monday afternoon and Wisemans Ferry Tuesday, the bureau said in a statement.
State Emergency Services Commissioner Carlene York said strong winds toppled trees, damaged roofs and blocked roads. Advised to avoid unnecessary travel.
Off the coast of New South Wales, a cargo ship with 21 crew members lost power Monday morning off a port in Wollongong. It was anchored near the beach and tugboats were preparing to tow it to safe, open water.
The ship has engineers capable of repairing the engine, port official John Finch told reporters. “Unfortunately, we’re in some pretty brutal conditions at the moment,” he said, citing 8-metre (26-foot) swells and winds of 30 knots (34 mph).
Plans to airlift the ship’s crew to safety were abandoned due to bad weather.
Camden municipality mayor Theresa Fedeli said repeated flooding has swept away members of a riverside community southwest of Sydney, where homes and businesses were inundated by the Nepean River on Sunday night.
“It’s a disaster. They keep saying ‘disaster, not again,'” Fedali said.
“I keep saying … ‘We’ve got to be strong, we’ll get through this.’ But you know it really hits a lot of people hard,” he added.
As major floods become more common across Australia’s most populous state, Perrott said the government and communities must adapt.
“There’s no doubt these events are becoming more common to see what we’re seeing across Sydney and governments need to adjust and ensure we respond to the changing environment,” Perrott said.