Heavy rains in Australia's east cause worst floods in decades

2021-03-22 12:04:55

A boat is loaded back onto its trailer on a flooded road at Old Pitt Town, northwest of Sydney, on Sunday. Australia's most populous state of New South Wales was hit by severe floods on Sunday and issued evacuation orders following the worst flooding in decades. MARK BAKER/AP SYDNEY-Heavy rains along Australia's east coast over the weekend have brought the worst flooding in half a century in some areas, authorities said on Sunday, forcing thousands to evacuate and damaging hundreds of houses. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the downpour across the state, Australia's most populous with 8 million people, was worse than initially expected, especially for low-lying areas in Sydney's northwest. "Yesterday we were hoping it will only be a one-in-20-year event, now it looks like a one-in-50-year event," Berejiklian said at a televised briefing. Emergency services ordered people living in low-lying areas on the city's northwestern fringes to flee to safety, as authorities warned of a potentially "life-threatening" situation in New South Wales State, the country's most populous state. It came after the Warragamba Dam, which provides much of the drinking water for Sydney, spilled over Saturday afternoon. That caused officials to warn the downstream Hawkesbury River was expected to peak at levels not seen since 1961. Floodwaters had already risen in several areas, prompting mass evacuations. Officials said another 4,000 people could be told to leave their homes in the coming days. Authorities urged residents to heed the "dozens" of official warnings in place across affected areas, with State Emergency Service assistant commissioner Dean Storey saying those in evacuation zones "must leave immediately". People had already begun flocking to evacuation centers in towns north of Sydney on Saturday as torrential rains pummeled a vast coastal region already soaked by an unusually wet summer. In Taree, about 150 people slept overnight in a local auditorium that has previously been a refuge for people fleeing bush fires. The Bureau of Meteorology said the wild weather was forecast to re-intensify north of Sydney on Monday before easing later in the week. Conditions were "going to be treacherous yet again", senior climatologist Agata Imielska said. Rainfall records were forecast to continue tumbling in the coming days, she said. Emergency services reported receiving more than 7,000 calls for help and carrying out about 650 flood rescues since Thursday, with reinforcements being called in from other states. The rain and floods were also expected to delay the already halting rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Sydney and surrounding areas. Agencies via Xinhua