Australia's east coast battered by cyclone-like storm

SYDNEY - Cyclone-strength winds, huge seas, torrential rain and flash flooding battered Australia's east coast on Tuesday, leaving one woman critically injured and more than 100,000 homes without power.

Destructive winds of up to 135 kph (85 mph) ripped up trees by their roots, some crushing cars, tore down building awnings and scaffolding, and even overturned a car.

Rail links to the north and south of Sydney were cut and many roads in Australia's largest city were flooded.

Transport authorities advised Sydney residents that all"non-essential travel" should be avoided until the weather eased. Some hospitals without power reportedly had to rely on generators and some 25 schools were closed.

The deluge saw Sydney receive nearly a month's worth of rain in 24 hours, data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology showed.

The New South Wales State Emergency Service (SES) said it had received more than 3,000 calls for help and had to carry out 19 flood rescues, including one of an elderly woman in the town of Stroud, just over 200 km (125 miles) north of Sydney.

The woman was in critical condition after she was rescued.

"We've haven't seen this sort of weather pattern ... or one as severe as this, in years," SES Deputy Commissioner Steven Pearce told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"The consistent gale-force winds ... are actually cyclonic in some areas with gusts up to 135 kilometres per hour."

The destructive storm off the coast just north of Sydney whipped up giant seas that closed many beaches, including world-famous Bondi Beach.

An oceanic weather buoy off Sydney measured waves reaching 11.2 metres (33 feet) overnight.

The wild weather closed parts of Sydney Harbour, forcing a cruise ship with some 2,500 passengers to wait off the coast, battered by big swells.

Ships entering the harbour must be escorted by a harbour pilot, but the wild weather prevented them from boarding the cruise ship to steer it into port.

The port authority said Sydney Harbour could be closed to commercial shipping for the next 48 hours.