SYDNEY — Hundreds of people have been rescued as serious floods hit the Sydney region for the fourth time in less than 18 months.
“This event is far from over,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet warned on Tuesday. There were currently 102 evacuation orders in place statewide, including almost two dozen new ones overnight, he said, adding that evacuation orders or warnings had affected about 50,000 people.
Australia’s government has declared the floods a natural disaster, enabling some victims to access recovery funds. On Monday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had been briefed on the situation after a clandestine trip to Ukraine.
Australia’s east coast has experienced four major floods in less than 18 months as a La Niña weather pattern has brought cooler, wetter conditions. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology recently declared an end to the 2021-2022 La Niña but warned it could re-form later this year. The current downpours are caused by a low-pressure system off the east coast, the bureau said.
Sydney was already suffering its wettest year to date on record when 1½ months’ worth of rain landed on the city in just the first four days of July.
A widely viewed BBC graphic captured Sydney’s soggy predicament: It showed Australia’s most populous city received significantly more rain from Friday to Monday than London — which is no stranger to showers — averages in a year.
One meteorologist said the city was receiving the equivalent of all the water in Sydney Harbor each day during the downpour.
“It is hard to fathom that we are seeing a rain event of this magnitude hitting this part of Australia once again,” Weatherzone meteorologist Ben Domensino told local Nine Network television on Monday.
A spokesperson for the state emergency services, or SES, said midday Tuesday that the agency had performed 152 flood rescues in the past 24 hours, and almost 300 since flooding began in some areas on June 28. There have not been any known fatalities, she said. (The death of a Sydney kayaker over the weekend was not flood-related, according to police.)
News footage showed water completely covering a bridge in the town of Windsor, northwest of Sydney.
For some Sydney residents in historically flood-prone areas, the deluge was the third in four months.
“Where do you start? Mentally, physically, financially, it destroys you,” Judy White told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She said she was still cleaning up from the last flood when the waters again inundated her home in the Sydney suburb of Londonderry.
Scientists say climate change is increasing the frequency and ferocity of natural disasters, raising questions about whether people should continue to live in areas where “once in a century” floods are becoming more common.
James Pittock, a climate expert at Australian National University, told the ABC that the government should offer to buy 5,000 or 6,000 of the most flood-prone homes in western Sydney.
Perrottet said 19,000 homes were without power on Tuesday because of the heavy rains, which are expected to continue this week.
SES Commissioner Carlene York, who said the floods had “stretched” her agency’s resources, urged people not to drive unless absolutely necessary.
“If you don’t have to travel on the roads, please don’t do anything but essential travel,” she said. “It is dangerous. The waters rise very rapidly, as we saw last night. It can put you in danger and require the emergency services’ agencies to come out and save you.”
York also warned that even after waters recede, roads could remain damaged.
On Tuesday, the state’s regional transportation minister said the floods had caused a sinkhole 200 feet deep and 130 feet wide to open up next to a railway in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.