Australia’s Mid-North Coast seeing ‘one-in-100-year’ floods

SYDNEY (AFP) : Torrential rain lashed Australia’s south-east again on Monday (March 22), worsening once-in-a-century flooding in the Mid-North Coast that has forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and shuttered hundreds of schools.

The days-long deluge has inundated coastal areas of New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, with parts of Sydney experiencing what officials predicted would be the biggest flood in decades. 

On Monday, eight million residents were told to avoid unnecessary travel and work from home if possible, as some hard-hit areas received 25cm of rain in 24 hours.

Just over a year ago the region was parched: suffering prolonged drought, water restrictions and unprecedented bush fires. 

Scientists have warned Australia can expect to see more frequent and more extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

Nearly 2,000 people have already been evacuated from low lying areas, NSW emergency services said.PHOTO: AFP
Dogs in carriers are transported on inflatable boats in Sydney on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS
Workers assess a flooded bridge in Sydney on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said about 18,000 people have been ordered to evacuate and 38 regions have been declared disaster zones.

“I don’t know any time in a state history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. 

Emergency services have received at least 8,800 calls for help and rescued hundreds of people from flood waters since the crisis began. 

The state’s Mid-North Coast has been particularly badly affected, with Ms Berejiklian declaring the region had been struck by a “one in 100 year” disaster.

People ride bicycles on the flooded Old Hawkesbury Road in Australia on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS
The overflowing Parramatta river in Sydney on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: AFP
Onlookers watch the submerged New Windsor Bridge at Windsor in Sydney on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In Sydney’s vast Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, swollen rivers were expected to peak at levels not seen since 1961, after the Warragamba Dam, the city’s main drinking water source, spilled over on Saturday afternoon.

Residents in some affected areas were allowed to return to their homes on Monday after waters receded, but others were placed on high alert as their regions were impacted by rising waters for the first time. 

The authorities have warned of a potentially “life-threatening” situation though so far there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries. 

“When you have been through three or four incidents that are life-changing on top of each other, it can make you feel like you are at breaking point,” Ms Berejiklian said. “Please know that we are thinking of you and getting you support as much as we can.”

The education authorities said more than 200 schools were closed, including some that had been damaged in the floods.

A swollen Coomera River is seen at Oxenford Weir in Australia on March 22, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Livestock is seen as floodwaters rise in Sydney on March 22, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

There were reports that homes and businesses had also been damaged but Mr Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Insurance Council of Australia, said it was too early to understand the “extent of the damage to property in affected areas and to estimate the insurance damage bill”. 

Insurers had received more than 5,000 claims in the past few days, he added. 

Residents of official disaster zones are eligible for emergency government support payments of A$1,000 (S$1,037) per adult and A$400 per child.

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned of “treacherous” conditions on Monday before the wild weather is forecast to ease later in the week. 

Rainfall records were forecast to continue tumbling in the coming days as the deluge spreads into the state’s north-west, and farther north into Queensland state where flood warnings were also issued. 

Health officials have said the rain and floods will delay the already halting roll-out of coronavirus vaccines in Sydney and surrounding areas. 

Australia is due to begin the first major public phase of vaccine distribution on Monday, although the programme has slipped behind the government’s announced timetable because of supply and delivery issues.

THE STRAITS TIMES

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