Torrential rain hits Sydney; flood warnings stretch across Australia's east coast

A woman and dog rescued by a State Emergency Service crew make it to safety after being trapped by rising floodwaters, as the state of New South Wales experiences widespread flooding and severe weather, in the suburb of Sackville North in Sydney, Australia.
PHOTO: Reuters

SYDNEY - Flood warnings stretched across Australia's east coast on Tuesday (March 8) and tens of thousands of Sydney residents fled their homes overnight as torrential rain again pummelled a large swathe of the country.

Australia's eastern rivers were already near capacity following record downpours in several parts of Queensland and New South Wales states over recent weeks, cutting off towns and sweeping away farms, livestock and roads.

A man and a woman were found dead on Tuesday near an abandoned car in a stormwater canal in western Sydney, authorities said, while Queensland police confirmed the death of a man missing in floods since Feb 27, taking the death tally to 20 since the deluge began. Most people were found dead either in flooded homes or in cars attempting to cross flooded roads.

Meteorology Bureau forecaster Dean Narramore said minor to major flooding was occurring from the Queensland to Victoria border, a distance of more than 1,555km.

"A tough 24 hours or even 48 hours ahead," Mr Narramore said during a media briefing on Tuesday as he forecast up to 120mm of rain across Sydney over the next 24 hours, with the storm clearing by late Wednesday.

Heavy rain lashed Sydney overnight, with some suburbs receiving up to 200mm since Monday morning, exceeding March's mean rainfall of around 140mm. It triggered flash floods and snap evacuation orders in the south-west of the city.

Emergency services estimate that around 70,000 to 80,000 people in Greater Sydney face evacuation orders, although they do not expect everyone to follow these.

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"People make decisions based on past history and I think this event has shown that there is no past history similar to this event," New South Wales Emergency Service Commissioner Carlene York told reporters.

Frustration was growing among many flood-hit residents in both states over slow relief and recovery efforts, with power and Internet services still down in several towns as emergency crews tried to clear roads to deliver essential supplies.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is trailing in polls ahead of a federal election due by May, said on Monday that more defence force personnel were being sent to flood-affected areas.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet, on a tour of the flood-hit areas, took responsibility for his government’s shortcomings over rescue and relief measures.

“From stories and people I have met, the heartbreaking stories over the course of the week where people felt isolated and abandoned, I don’t want anyone in my state to ever feel like that,” Perrottet told ABC Radio on Tuesday.