NSW flood update: record rainfall displaces 50,000 people as Sydney’s wild weather moves north

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Record rainfall has displaced 50,000 people from their homes in Sydney, with more than 150 evacuation orders and warnings remaining in place on Tuesday night as the wild weather headed north.

Parts of New South Wales have had more than 700mm of rainfall since the floods hit, while areas of the Illawarra have experienced record July rainfall in a matter of days.

Emergency services crews made 141 flood rescues on Monday night and a further 150 across Tuesday.

More than 19,000 homes remained without power and heavy rain and strong winds continued across the state. There were more than 100 evacuation orders in place on Tuesday evening, and a further 60 evacuation warnings.

New evacuation orders were still being issued for parts of Hawkesbury and the Hunter Valley on Tuesday evening, including Macdonald River and Webbs Creek, north-west of Wisemans Ferry, and the townships of Bulga and Broke along the Wollombi Brook.

The NSW SES deputy state duty commander, Ashley Sullivan, told the ABC the focus was shifting from Sydney to other areas of the state including the Hunter, Central Coast and mid-north coast.

Related: Cargo ship stranded off Sydney forced to remain at anchor by ferocious conditions

“There are ongoing flood rescues for either motorists that continue to drive into flood waters or are isolated due to the severe weather impacting NSW,” he said.

“We’re asking the communities to remain vigilant. There is still severe weather impacting large areas.”

Sullivan said while the rain was not expected to be as severe in the coming days, 100mm of rain was expected on the mid-north coast. The Bureau of Meteorology said heavy rainfall would also persist in parts of the northern tablelands on Tuesday evening, while easing in the Hunter.

The BoM warned heavy rainfall since Sunday morning had caused “significant” river level rises along the Hunter River catchment with further rises expected overnight into Wednesday.

Major flooding was occurring at Bulga and Wollombi above March 2022 levels, while moderate flooding was possible at Singleton from Wednesday. Wollombi Brook was expected to reach up to 14 metres, above major flood levels.

“Onshore flow combined with an upper trough will continue to bring persistent rainfall,” the Bureau of Meteorology said.

“A coastal trough is also forecast to develop across the north-east later this evening then deepen in response to a highly amplified upper trough and associated low on Wednesday, before pushing further offshore late Wednesday.”

Isolated six-hour totals of up to 125mm were possible in the mid-north coast and south-eastern areas of the northern tablelands, increasing the risk of landslides in already saturated catchments.

“Damaging winds are no longer expected across the warning area. However, strong and gusty winds may still provide the risk of trees toppling in softer and very saturated soils, particularly about the coastal fringe and ranges,” the Bureau of Meteorology said.

NSW emergency services were rushing to restore access to bridges and roads hammered by storm damage on Tuesday, with more than 500 Rural Fire Service personnel deployed to clear debris and fallen trees.

Parts of the Blue Mountains train line had been suspended amid a major landslip at Mount Victoria, which forced a road closure at Barrengarry Mountain.

Further south, residents in parts of Kangaroo Valley were cut off for the second time in six months after the rain washed away their only access road.

The SES had answered more than 5,300 calls for help since the beginning of this emergency, including several rescues of drivers stuck in cars and residents needing to be evacuated.

The SES reported one hoax call of a person needing to be rescued from a roof, which was a dangerous diversion of critical resources, authorities said.

Scores of evacuation orders had been issued, mostly north-west of Sydney, where major flooding had occurred along the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers at Menangle, North Richmond, Lower Portland and Windsor.

Following massive rainfall totals across multiple catchments over the past three days, North Richmond, Windsor, Wisemans Ferry and Sackville were experiencing flood peaks above March 2022 with further rises possible.

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The premier, Dominic Perrottet, warned the current crisis was “far from over”.

“Don’t be complacent. Be careful when you’re driving on our roads,” he said. “There are still substantial risks for flash flooding across our state and once again, as we always say, please don’t drive through flood waters.”

Sullivan, from the SES, said the situation remained volatile. He said the SES had received 475 calls for help overnight Monday.

“Certainly with the persistent rain we are receiving, the threat will remain into today and tomorrow,” Sullivan said. “Even when it does stop raining, the flood threats will continue.”

Authorities were acutely concerned about the Hunter valley over the next 48 hours as the Hunter River system swelled.

The emergency management minister, Steph Cooke, said there were about 400 people in evacuation centres in the high-risk areas and 150 in emergency accommodation.

She said people across Sydney should stay at home “unless you really need to leave the house” as damaging winds were expected.

“We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Jane Golding, from the Bureau of Meteorology, said rain would be persistent over the Hunter region on Tuesday before moving north.

“The floods, even if the rain has eased, will wet those areas where the rain has eased and we’re seeing showers at the moment … it will take a bit of time for the water to make its way out to sea.

“So major flood warnings are likely to continue for the next couple of days.”

Wild weather continued to hamper efforts to tow the stricken cargo ship MV Portland Bay to deeper waters after the vessel lost power south of Sydney.

The Port Authority of NSW warned there would be “long days ahead” for the operation as the multiagency response team prepared for “slow and steady progress” amid torrential conditions.

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