SYDNEY — Thousands of Sydney suburban residents were told on Sunday to evacuate their homes after heavy rains caused water to rise and rivers to overflow in what authorities called life-threatening emergencies.
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for heavy rains and flash flooding and gusts of wind up to 90 kilometers (55 miles) per hour along the coast of Australia’s most populous city and other parts of the state of New South Wales.
Authorities said the Warragamba Dam in western Sydney started flooding overnight and peak discharge would be comparable to devastating flooding in March last year.
Residents in a number of suburbs have been ordered to evacuate, but Emergency Aid Minister Steph Cooke said people should not wait to be told to leave.
“If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about your circumstances, and there is an opportunity to leave earlier, don’t necessarily wait for an evacuation order,” she said. “If you were safe in 2021, don’t assume you’re safe tonight. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we can see areas affected that we haven’t seen before.”
Emergency services said they have conducted more than 100 rescue operations in the past 24 hours and responded to more than 3,000 requests for help. Evacuation centers have been opened in several areas in western Sydney.
About 100 Australian Defense Force personnel helped by hanging up sandbags and knocking on doors to warn of the threat of flooding.
Jane Golding, the weather bureau’s hazard preparation and response manager, said a coastal trench that has persisted since Friday deepened as an East Coast low-pressure system formed off the Mid North Coast.
“That has caused some extraordinary rainfall in the last 24 hours … in many locations has been seen up to 200mm and some close to 300mm,” she said. Rain volume is almost half of Sydney’s annual average.
People were told to avoid non-essential travel, including public transport, as some roads are already flooded and others are at risk of flash flooding.