The federal government will provide one-off $1,000 payments for people in 23 flood-affected areas across New South Wales, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, announced on Wednesday, as the flood threat moved north.
Rain eased in areas of Sydney hit by flooding but concern remained for the state’s Hunter and mid-north coast regions, with flooding expected to continue into Wednesday evening.
Flood warnings were still being issued by the Bureau of Meteorology for a series of waterways late on Wednesday, as wild weather continued to lash parts of the state.
A severe weather warning for damaging winds and heavy rainfall remained in place for parts of the mid-north coast and northern tablelands as the low pressure system moved north.
The low was expected to quickly shift off the east coast late Wednesday evening, bringing more stable conditions as New South Wales entered the fifth day of floods.
Until then, six hourly falls of up to 150mm were likely along the mid-north coast, while “dangerous and life-threatening” flash flooding was possible until late evening over areas between Port Macquarie, Gloucester and Bulahdelah.
North-west of Dubbo, major flooding was expected to occur at Warren on Thursday morning as the Macquarie River continued to fill.
Moderate flooding was possible at Wallis Lake and Manning River in the mid-north coast and at Tuggerah Lake on the central coast, where Long Jetty was approaching a peak near 1.7 metres.
Elsewhere, major flooding was still occurring at North Richmond, Windsor, Sackville, Lower Portland, Putty Road and Wisemans Ferry with the Hawkesbury Nepean reaching levels higher than the March 2022 peak of 14.08 metres.
“River levels at locations upstream of Sackville have begun falling very slowly with the main flood peak now through Wisemans Ferry,” the bureau warned.
“Major flooding is occurring along the Hawkesbury River at Lower Portland and Wisemans Ferry, where river levels peaked at 5.75 metres during Wednesday morning and levels remain above the March 2022 flood levels.”
SES deputy state duty commander Ashley Sullivan told the ABC there had been nearly 7,000 requests for assistance since the start of the floods, with 370 flood rescues in the past 24 hours.
Final flood warnings, indicating that expected peaks had already been reached, were also announced for several rivers.
After returning from Europe last night, Albanese announced on Wednesday morning that the federal disaster recovery payment would be made available for people across the Sydney, Illawarra and Hunter regions. The payments – $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per child – will be available from Thursday and are not means tested.
“We want to make sure the supports are available as soon as possible. That’s why we’ve been very quick to act in partnership with the NSW government and it is pleasing that we’ve been able to work together so strongly,” Albanese told ABC TV.
“We know those communities were also impacted by bushfires. My heart goes out to people who have been impacted there.”
But acting Liberal leader Sussan Ley is calling on the Labor government to activate ongoing weekly $350 disaster payments, criticising what she claimed was a “hold-up” in assistance.
The PM said a third Australian defence force helicopter would be tasked to the flood recovery efforts, while the federal government had offered 250 troops to the NSW government.
Albanese praised the efforts of the NSW government, after Liberal premier, Dominic Perrottet, had yesterday spoken approvingly of the federal response and assistance.
Ley, acting as Liberal leader while opposition leader Peter Dutton takes a fortnight of annual leave, tweeted shortly before Albanese’s disaster payment announcement that she wanted to see more federal assistance.
“Serious questions for @AlboMP to answer today re NSW floods,” she said.
“Why hasn’t he activated Disaster Recovery Payments & Allowances? … This is a decision his government can make with the stroke of a pen. What’s the hold-up?”
The disaster recovery allowance is a weekly payment, in contrast to the one-off disaster recovery payment.
Albanese called the federal opposition “childish” over criticisms of his international travel to the Nato summit and for visiting Ukraine while the floods developed, contrasting attacks from David Littleproud and Angus Taylor to the “extremely responsible” Perrottet.
The assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones, told the ABC that Australians should brace for even higher grocery prices as a result of the flood damage to farming country.
“There’s no doubt that the flood events, some of the areas where the water is going through, that’s food-growing areas, that will flow through to the price of groceries on our supermarket shelves,” he said. “And a longer term flow-on effect on insurance premiums.”
BoM was forecasting rainfalls as high as 100mm on Wednesday around Port Macquarie, with falls between 50 and 100mm expected to the north and south of the town.
In the 24 hours to 8.30am Wednesday, North Bonville experienced 202mm of rain while Bellingen was lashed with 195mm.
In the Hunter, the NSW State Emergency Service issued several evacuation orders late on Tuesday and on Wednesday, including for residents of Singleton, Glenridding, Dunolly, Combo, Whittingham and Scotts Flat.
It urged them to evacuate, as rising flood waters were expected to close roads.
Meanwhile, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) issued a legal direction to the master of a ship that had been stranded off the Sydney coast to move it to a harbour berth on Wednesday before more bad weather hit.
AMSA, which acts as the maritime emergency response commander, said in a statement that it had issued the direction to the master of the MV Portland Bay and the salvage team that it must be moved to Botany Bay.
The Portland Bay, a 170-metre cargo ship registered in Hong Kong, unloaded a cargo of cement at Port Kembla on Sunday night, but experienced engine failure east of Garie beach on Monday morning. Wild seas made it impossible to fix the damage and threatened to push the ship ashore.
First responders have been commended for the successful operation to move the ship safely into Botany Bay on Wednesday afternoon.
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