Heavy rain brings flood chaos to Australia's east coast
About 100 millimetres of rain forecast in Greater Sydney this weekend, and up to 300mm in the Blue Mountains
Australia's east coast was pummelled by heavy rains on Saturday, sparking dangerous flash flooding that forced the evacuation of several regions, as the fast-moving waters lifted houses, engulfed roads, stranded towns and cut power lines.
In Sydney, the country's biggest city, authorities pleaded for people to stay at home as a major dam overflowed and a mini-tornado tore through a western suburb.
Most of the coast of New South Wales state, which is home to about a third of Australia's 25 million people, has already seen March rainfall records broken. Authorities warned the downpour was likely to continue for several days.
"I hate to say this again to all our citizens of the state, but it's not going to be an easy week for us," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
"The rain may not stop till Thursday or Friday."
Officials had issued nine evacuation orders for about 15 areas by Saturday afternoon.
Television footage showed increasing damage across the state, with water engulfing houses up to the windows, people kayaking through the streets, and damaged roads.
One video showed an entire house being swept away. Local media reported that the house owners had managed to evacuate.
Warragamba Dam, a major water source for Sydney, began overflowing on Saturday afternoon. Officials warned that the overflow would quickly add to swollen rivers, leading to flash flooding.
A mini-tornado ripped through a suburb in the west of the city, causing damage to more than 30 homes, knocking down trees and cutting power, emergency services said.
People were urged to avoid any non-essential trips, with officials lambasting those who had needed help after venturing out into the stormy weather.
Emergency crews responded to about 4,000 calls for help over the past two days, including 500 direct flood rescues
This number was "just completely unacceptable", NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said.
"The message is clear: do not walk through or drive through floodwaters, do not drive over water that is covering a road," Mr Elliott said.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecast rainfall totals in the Greater Sydney region this weekend of around 100 millimetres, and up to 300mm in the Blue Mountains region, about 100 kilometres inland.
The agency also predicted damaging winds of up to 70 kilometres per hour, with gusts exceeding 90 kph.
Social and sporting events were called off across the state – including football matches and one of Australian turf’s marquee horse races, the A$3.5 million ($2.7 million) Golden Slipper.
Almost 30 children in the rural town of Kendall spent Friday night in their primary school library, together with more than a dozen staff members, after flooding trapped them inside and prevented parents from collecting them.
"Lots of hungry little bellies this morning as everyone woke up after a settled, quiet night," a note on the school's Facebook page said. "All safe and sound here at school."
Updated: March 20, 2021 12:06 PM