People in parts of Sydney’s northwest were ordered to flee their houses in the middle of the night on Sunday, as heavy rains continued to batter Australia’s east coast, triggering floods that caused widespread destruction throughout the region.
Authorities issued flooding risk and evacuation warnings in about 12 areas in the state of New South Wales (NSW), of which Sydney is the capital, and warned of a potentially “life-threatening” situation in the region.
Dean Storey, assistant commissioner at NSW’s State Emergency Services, said people living in evacuation zones “must leave immediately”.
“This is a very serious situation,” he said. “All communities need to be aware of their risk, and plan and prepare accordingly.”
The orders came as the Warragamba Dam, which provides much of the drinking water for Sydney, spilled over on Saturday afternoon, causing water levels to rise along the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers.
Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of NSW, called the flooding a “one-in-100-year event”.
“While we don’t think things will worsen on the mid-North Coast, definitely conditions will continue,” she told a news conference.
Another 4,000 people may be asked to leave their homes in the coming days, she added.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the heavy downpour is set to continue for the rest of Sunday in Sydney and throughout the state, with some areas expected to get up to 200mm (7.9 inches) of rain.
Emergency services said they had received about 600 calls overnight asking for help; more than 60 of those were pleas for rescue from floods.
Television and social media footage showed fast-moving water unmooring houses, engulfing roads, knocking down trees and damaging road infrastructure.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison lamented the “absolutely heart-breaking scenes” on Saturday and offered troops to help with the emergency effort.
The extreme weather was affecting Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Sydney and throughout the state and disrupting the country’s plans to deliver the first vaccine doses to almost six million people during the next few weeks.