SYDNEY (AP) — More than 30,000 residents of Sydney and its surrounding areas were told to evacuate or prepare to abandon their homes on Monday as Australia’s largest city faces its fourth, and possibly the worse, wave of floods in less than a year and a half.
Days of torrential rain caused dams to overflow and rivers to burst, sparking a new flood emergency in parts of the city of 5 million.
“The latest information we have indicates that there is a good chance that the flood will be worse than any of the other three floods that these regions have experienced in the last 18 months,” said the Minister of Health. Emergency Management, Murray Watt.
The current floods could affect areas that were spared during previous floods in March last year, March this year and April, 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 carried out numerous rescues after the floods on Sunday and early Monday and were receiving hundreds more calls for help.
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).
These totals are close to the average annual rainfall for coastal areas of New South Wales.
“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.
The Bureau of Meteorology says up to 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) of rain could fall in Sydney on Monday.
Flood danger was highest along the Hawkesbury River northwest of Sydney and the Nepean River west of Sydney.
The office on Monday afternoon reported major flooding in the communities of Nepean, Menangle and Wallacia on the southwestern outskirts of Sydney.
Major flooding also occurred on the Hawkesbury in North Richmond, on the northwestern edge of Sydney. The Hawkesbury communities of Windsor and Lower Portland are expected to be flooded Monday afternoon and Wisemans Ferry Tuesday, according to a statement from the office.
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 cargo ship with 21 crew lost power after leaving Wollongong port on Monday morning. She was anchored near the coast and tugs were preparing to pull her to safer open waters.
The ship has engineers on board capable of repairing the engine, port official John Finch told reporters. “Unfortunately we are in terrible conditions right now,” he said, describing 8-metre (26-foot) swells and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph).
An earlier 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 where homes and businesses were inundated by the Nepean River on Sunday evening.
“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 affects a lot of people,” she added.
Perrottet said the government and communities had to adapt to major floods becoming more frequent in Australia’s most populous state.
“To see what we see all over Sydney, there is no doubt that these events are becoming more and more common. And governments need to adapt and make sure we respond to the changing environment we find ourselves in,” Perrottet said.