Australia’s east coast was battered by torrential rains on Saturday, sparking dangerous flash flooding that forced the evacuation of multiple regions as the fast-moving waters unmoored houses, submerged roads, stranded towns and cut power lines.
In Sydney, the country’s biggest city, authorities called on people to stay at home as a major dam overflowed and a mini-tornado tore through a western suburb.
Most of the coast of New South Wales (NSW) state, which is home to nearly a third of Australia’s 25 million people, has already seen March rainfall records broken and authorities cautioned the downpour was likely to continue for many days.
“I hate to say this again to all our citizens of the state, but it’s not going to be an easy week for us,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a televised briefing. “The rain may not stop till Thursday or Friday.”
Officials had issued 9 evacuation orders for almost 15 regions by Saturday afternoon.
Television footage showed increasing damage across the state, with water submerging houses up to the windows, people kayaking through the streets, and damaged roads. One video showed an entire house being swept away. Local media said the house owners had managed to evacuate.
Warragamba Dam, a major water supply for Sydney, began overflowing on Saturday afternoon. Officials warned that the overflow would swiftly add to swollen rivers, leading to flash flooding.
Emergency services reported that a mini-tornado ripped through a suburb in the west of the city, causing damage to at least 30 homes, knocking down trees and causing power outages.
People were urged to stay at home and avoid any non-essential trips, with officials lashing out at those who had needed help after venturing out into the stormy weather.
Emergency crews responded to almost 4,000 calls for help over the past 2 days, including 500 direct flood rescues, a level NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said was “just completely unacceptable.”
“The message is clear: do not walk through or drive through floodwaters, do not drive over water that is covering a road,” Elliott added.
The federal government said the extreme weather was affecting its coronavirus vaccine delivery in Sydney and throughout state, adding however that delays should last only a few days.
Australia plans to deliver the first vaccine shots to around six million people over the next few weeks.