Wild storm smashes Sydney for third day

Wild storm smashes Sydney for third day

SYDNEY - Heavy rain and high winds battered Sydney and other areas for a third day Wednesday causing widespread chaos, with emergency services dealing with 8,000 calls for help and a "cruise from hell" finally docking.

Australia's biggest city and regions to the north, including the Central Coast and Hunter Valley, have been battling cyclonic wind gusts and non-stop downpours since Monday, with three elderly people dying in the country town of Dungog on Tuesday.

A handful of homes have been washed away by flash floods, with countless others damaged by falling trees and power lines, which have also crushed cars.

The Insurance Council of Australia said it had received 19,500 claims, with losses estimated at Aus$129 million (US$100 million) from what has been described as a once-in-a-decade storm.

"I expect these numbers will rise quickly as home owners and businesses assess the damage to their properties and lodge claims with their insurer or through their insurance broker," council chief Rob Whelan.

State Emergency Service Deputy Commissioner Steven Pearce said crews had taken nearly 8,000 calls for assistance since Monday and carried out 95 flood rescues, with an enormous amount of work ahead.

"That weather has not abated," he told the Nine Network.

"You are getting a reprieve in some areas for a short while, while it is ramping up in others. It is difficult to manage considering the size."

Power remains cut to around 200,000 homes and businesses, utility provider AusGrid said, and more than 160 schools were closed.

In Sydney, Manly Dam began overflowing but police urged people to remain calm, saying there was no immediate threat.

"The dam is spilling but it's designed to spill. The dam is at no risk of collapse," Pearce said, while warning motorists against attempting to drive through flooded roads.

"It's a big risk to yourself, could be catastrophic and a big risk to rescuers if we have to come to retrieve you. So please, do not be stupid."

Beaches throughout the region remained shut due to heavy and dangerous surf, although weather conditions were expected to ease later Wednesday as the low pressure system that has been causing the chaos weakens.

The monster seas abated enough for a ship that had been stuck on the open ocean outside Sydney Harbour since Tuesday to finally dock, to the huge relief of the 2,500 passengers, with the Sydney Morning Herald referring to it as "the cruise from hell".

"So many people have never wanted a holiday to end so badly in their lives," said Rachel Browne, one of the newspaper's correspondents who was on the cruise from the South Pacific with her family.

"Most people have just been vomiting for the last two days."

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