SYDNEY (AP) – More than 30,000 residents of Sydney and the surrounding area have been urged to evacuate or prepare to evacuate their homes on Monday as Australia’s largest city faces its fourth and potentially worst round of flooding in less than a year and a half.
Days of torrential rain caused levees to overflow and waterways to burst their banks, sparking a new flood emergency in parts of the city of 5 million.
“The latest information we have is that there is a very high probability that the floods will be worse than any other three floods that these areas have had in the past 18 months,” said Emergency Management Secretary Murray Watt.
The current flooding could affect areas spared by the previous floods in March last year, March this year and April, Watt added.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said 32,000 people were affected by evacuation orders and warnings.
“You would probably expect that number to increase as the week progressed,” Perrottet said.
Emergency services conducted scores of flood rescues Sunday and early Monday and received hundreds more calls for help.
Jane Golding, chief of meteorology in Australia, said some areas between Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Wollongong, south of Sydney, had received more than a meter (39 inches) of rain in the last 24 hours. Some have received more than 1.5 meters (59 in).
These totals are close to the average annual rainfall for coastal New South Wales.
“The system that created this weather is showing signs that it will ease up tomorrow, but expect more rain today,” Golding said.
Rain had been forecast all week along the New South Wales coast, including Sydney, she said.
The Bureau of Meteorology says up to 12 inches of rain could fall in Sydney on Monday.
The risk of flooding was highest on the Hawkesbury River in north-west Sydney and on the Nepean River in west Sydney.
The bureau on Monday afternoon reported major flooding in the Nepean communities of Menangle and Wallacia on Sydney’s south-western edge.
Major flooding also hit Hawkesbury in North Richmond on the northwest edge of Sydney. The Hawkesbury communities of Windsor and Lower Portland were expected to be flooded on Monday afternoon and Wisemans Ferry on Tuesday, the bureau said in a statement.
State Emergency Services Commissioner Carlene York said high winds had downed trees, damaged roofs and blocked roads. She advised against unnecessary travel.
Off the coast of New South Wales, a cargo ship with 21 crew lost power Monday morning after leaving Wollongong port. It was anchored near shore and tugs were preparing to tow it to safer, open waters.
The ship has engineers on board who are capable of repairing the engine, port official John Finch told reporters. “Unfortunately, we’re in some terrible conditions at the moment,” he said, describing waves of 8 meters (26 feet) and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph).
An earlier plan to airlift the ship’s crew to safety was abandoned due to bad weather.
Repeated flooding has taken a toll on members of a riverside community southwest of Sydney, said Mayor Theresa Fedeli of Camden Township, where homes and businesses were inundated by the Nepean River on Sunday night.
“It’s just devastating. They just keep saying ‘devastating, not again,'” Fedeli said.
“I just keep saying… ‘We have to be strong, we’re going to get through this.’ But you know, deep down, it hits a lot of people really hard,” she added.
Perrottet said government and communities would have to adapt to major flooding, which is becoming more common in Australia’s most populous state.
“To see what we’re seeing across Sydney, there’s no doubt these events are becoming more common. And governments need to adapt and make sure we are responsive to the changing environment that we find ourselves in,” Perrottet said.