Fresh deluge worsens 'one in 100 year' Australia floods

Sydney, Australia | Mon, March 22, 2021 | 08:52 pm

Torrential rain hit Australia’s southeast again on Monday, exacerbating once-in-a-generation flooding that has caused 18,000 people to flee their homes and forced the closure of hundreds of schools. Coastal areas of New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, have been flooded, including parts of Sydney.

Since some hard-hit areas received 25 centimetres (10 inches) of rain in 24 hours, eight million people were advised to avoid excessive travel and work from home if possible on Monday. The area was parched just over a year ago, with prolonged drought, water shortages, and unprecedented bushfires.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever seen these extreme weather conditions in such rapid succession in the midst of a pandemic,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. Scientists have warned that as a result of climate change, Australia should expect more severe and extreme weather events. Berejiklian added that about 18,000 people have been forced to evacuate and that 38 regions have been designated disaster zones.

Australia is being “tested once again” by a “terrible case,” according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative government has been accused of dragging its feet on climate action.

He told parliament that Australia’s defence force will be called in to help with the clean-up and recovery efforts. Since the beginning of the crisis, emergency services have received at least 8,800 requests for assistance and saved hundreds of people from floodwaters. The state’s Mid North Coast has been especially hard hit, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian calling the area a “one in a hundred year” disaster.

After the Warragamba Dam, the city’s main drinking water source, burst over Saturday, flooded rivers in Sydney’s vast Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley were forecast to reach levels not seen since 1961.

The dam was drained of 500 gigalitres of water, which is approximately equal to 200,000 Olympic-size swimming pools or Sydney Harbour’s total volume of water.

‘Breaking point’

Some residents were able to return to their homes Monday after the floodwaters receded, while others were placed on high alert as floodwaters approached their areas. Authorities have warned of a potentially “life-threatening” situation, but no deaths or serious injuries have been confirmed so far.

“It can make you feel like you’re at breaking point when you’ve had three or four life-changing events on top of each other,” Berejiklian said. More than 200 schools have been closed, including those that were destroyed in the flooding, according to education officials.

There were rumors of damage to homes and businesses, but Andrew Hall, CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia, said it was too early to know the magnitude of the damage and “estimate the insurance damage bill.”

He added that insurers had submitted over 5,000 claims in the last few days. Emergency government relief payments of Aus$1,000 (US$770) per adult and Aus$400 per child are available to residents of official disaster zones.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts “dangerous” weather on Monday, with the wild weather subsiding later in the week. The rain is expected to cause flooding in previously unaffected areas, as well as “renew flooding in many of those communities that have already been impacted,” according to flood operations manager Justin Robinson. “New South Wales is in a very dangerous situation at the moment,” he said.

Rainfall records are expected to tumble in the coming days as the deluge extends further north into Queensland state, where weather warnings have also been released.

As the tourist hotspot was drenched, flash flooding occurred on the Gold Coast, which is nearly 10 hours’ drive from Sydney. The rain and flooding, according to health authorities, will disrupt the already halted introduction of coronavirus vaccines in Sydney and the surrounding areas.

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