Three people died as the Australian state of New South Wales was lashed by a "once-in-a-decade" storm Tuesday with homes washed away, thousands hit by power cuts and sand drifts sweeping inland off Sydney's iconic Bondi beach.
Sea swells also hampered shipping as the region around Australia's biggest city suffered its second day of gale-force winds of up to 135 kilometres per hour (83 mph) and torrential rain.
The Bureau of Meteorology said 119 millimetres (five inches) of rain had fallen in Sydney in 24 hours - the city's wettest period since 2002.
The destructive winds blanketed parks, pavements and roads with sand from beaches including Bondi, while trees were uprooted, crashing onto cars, and power lines blown down.
Dozens of flights were delayed and at least one cruise ship found itself stuck at sea outside Sydney Harbour.
New South Wales state Premier Mike Baird said 4,500 calls had been made to emergency services. "There is no doubt this is a very severe storm event, indeed it is a once in 10-year event," he said. "We have lost some homes. There is a number of roofs taken off.
We have also lost life. It is a huge storm event that is wreaking havoc across NSW at the moment." New South Wales police said three people died in the country town of Dungog, 215 kilometres (133 miles) north of Sydney, which was soaked by 300 millimetres (12 inches) of rain in 24 hours. "During the morning a woman and two men were located deceased within the Dungog township.
The circumstances surrounding their deaths are still to be determined," they said in a statement. Video footage posted online showed a wooden house being swept away by flash floods, although it was not clear if this was linked to the deaths.
The Dungog Chronicle said four houses had been washed away and that the two men and one woman who died, all elderly, were trapped in their homes as floodwater surged through the town. "The water came out of nowhere, it just rose that quick," Dungog resident Jarod Rits, 18, told the newspaper.
"The water was just a roar, really, just rushing through the streets." Police advised Dungog residents and others in surrounding areas to leave their homes and move to an evacuation centre at a local high school, or to stay with family and friends.
Baird said the State Emergency Services (SES) had carried out 47 flood rescues. "There have been multiple persons trapped in vehicles, being trapped in buildings and being trapped on top of buildings while trying to take refuge from floodwaters," SES deputy chief Steven Pearce told reporters.
Speaking earlier to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said: "We've haven't seen this sort of weather pattern, this east-coast low or one as severe as this, in years." In Sydney, the harbour pilot could not board the giant Carnival Spirit cruise ship due to massive swells. The vessel languished in the open ocean with hundreds of passengers on board.
The Port Authority of New South Wales said the harbour had been closed for commercial shipping, possibly for 48 hours. Ferries across Sydney were cancelled or had limited services.
ABC reported that one person was also missing near Newcastle, 150 kilometres north of Sydney, after floodwaters rushed through a campground and washed away campervans and caravans.
Dozens of schools were closed, while the electricity utility Ausgrid said around 200,000 homes and businesses were without power across Sydney and the Central Coast and Hunter Valley areas to the north. Numerous roads were also closed due to flooding, fallen trees and downed power lines.