Australia floods and spiders swarm after rain lashes New South Wales

Months of rain falling in a few days has caused the worst flooding in 60 years in parts of New South Wales already reeling from drought, bushfires and Covid-19

Over the past two years, the people of Australia’s New South Wales have faced a long drought, a horror summer of bushfires and Covid-19.

Now they face the heaviest flooding in 60 years that has not only displaced thousands and swept away homes but sent droves of insects and animals running for higher ground in bizarre scenes.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, “three to four months’ worth of rain” fell in just three to four days between Thursday and Monday.

In Comboyn, just to the south of Port Macquarie, 889mm fell from 9am Thursday to 9am Monday.

More than 20,000 people have been evacuated in Sydney and the Mid-North Coast as the worst flooding in the region in 60 years has destroyed homes and covered much of the state with water.

In this drone photo a property is surrounded by flood waters in Londonderry on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters that have isolated dozens of towns in Australia's most populous state of New South Wales and forced thousands to evacuate their homes as record rain continues to inundate the countries east coast. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Property is surrounded by flood waters in Londonderry on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia. AP

Professor Thomas Wernberg of the University of Western Australia told The National that there is “increasing evidence that climate change is having an impact,” on weather cycles.

“All projections show these events are increasing in intensity and frequency, and so are associated extreme events such as marine heatwaves, storms and floods,” he said.

On what would have been their wedding day, Sarah Soars and Joshua Edge, from Taree, New South Wales watched in disbelief as the three-bedroom home they rent, their belongings and their pets were taken by raging floodwaters on Saturday.

The community has since rallied around the pair and found them a new place to live and raised $56,000 in 24 hours to replace lost belongings.

The floods have also led to strange scenes as animals and insects of all variety tried to escape the rising floodwaters.

Residents described a “blanket” of spiders covering walls and fences and locals reported seeing snakes climbing trees.

Shenae Varley told Guardian Australia that she saw “ … skinks [lizards ranging from 35-50 cm], ants, basically every insect, crickets – all just trying to get away from the floodwaters” at the Penrith weir in western Sydney.

epa09090807 A family is rescued after their boat capsized as they were being evacuated from a flooded property at Upper Colo in north western Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, 23 March 2021. Thousands were evacuated in New South Wales as the state experienced its worst flooding in decades. EPA/DEAN LEWINS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT
A family are rescued after their boat capsized as they were being evacuated from a flooded property at Upper Colo in North West Sydney. EPA

“My husband videoed it, because I was not going close to it. When he was standing still he had spiders climbing up his legs. A skink used him as a pole to get away from the water.

“I occasionally see spiders around the place but never anything like that, it was just insane,” she said.

Professor Dieter Hochuli, the head of Sydney University's integrative ecology group, told the ABC that there is a “vibrant ecosystem happening all the time … under our noses”.

"What happens with the floods is all these animals that spend their lives cryptically on the ground can't live there any more … Just like people, they're trying to get to higher ground during a flood.”

People worked quickly to help friends and neighbours escape rising water.

In one small New South Wales town, a group of residents carried every instrument out of a music store – including drum kits and electric pianos – to get them to safety as floodwaters began to quickly swamp the building.

On Tuesday morning, the Bureau of Meteorology predicted weather over Sydney would calm in the afternoon, but senior meteorologist Agata Imielska warned that “even though we will have that blue sky and sunshine returning, flooding will continue and the flood risk will continue. We also have warnings for damaging winds”.

Ms Imielska said “dangerous conditions” continue and the Mid North Coast is still being pummelled by heavy rainfall.

The area has already received over a metre of rainfall since Thursday, which Ms Imielska said: “is two-thirds of annual rainfall [for that region] falling in the space of just one week”.

The north-west slopes – including Tamworth, Gunnedah and Moree – received four months of rain in just 24 hours, the body said on Tuesday.

On top of the flooding and the escaping insects, parts of New South Wales and southern Queensland have been dealing with swarms of mice that has cost local businesses tens of thousands of dollars.

The recent wet season brought a bumper crop harvest leading to an explosion in the local mice population.

Naav Singh, who runs a family-owned supermarket in Gulargambone, New South Wales, told Guardian Australia the mice plague has cost the business $23,230 so far.

Updated: March 23, 2021 02:54 PM

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