Sydney braces for another night of flooding after region hit by torrential rain

Sydney braced for another long night on Monday with more than 70 flood evacuation orders in place across New South Wales and further alerts being issued into the evening, despite a forecast that conditions could ease on Tuesday.

Large parts of the state have been hammered with record levels of torrential rainfall since Friday, placing about 32,000 people under evacuation orders including in several parts of Sydney.

On Monday evening, further evacuation orders were issued for low-lying parts of Woronora, Liverpool, Morebank, Georges Hall and Bonnet Bay amid “dangerous, rapid” river level rises at Woronora Bridge in excess of 2016 levels.

With flooding possible overnight at Liverpool and Milperra in greater western Sydney, authorities were grappling with deteriorating conditions on several fronts.

NSW state emergency services commissioner Carlene York said she anticipated “another busy night” on Monday as major flooding continued before rain was expected to ease off on Tuesday. She did not anticipate evacuation orders would be lifted until then.

“It is forecast to ease possibly for [Tuesday] but the night-time will be a concern,” she said.

“I don’t want people to think they can move back into their houses … we’re going to make sure it’s safe and the community who have evacuated are in safe places. And we’ll be looking at where we can lift those orders tomorrow.”

While rainfall has eased in some areas, a coastal trough is forecast to move north late on Monday, bringing damaging winds of up to 100km/h and possible heavy rainfall and flash flooding over the Illawarra, Sydney and parts of the Hunter and Central Tablelands.

York said the Hawkesbury and Nepean valley remained the greatest areas of concern for authorities, with major flooding still occurring at Menangle, Wallacia, Windsor and North Richmond, while efforts were also being redirected to the Hunter and Liverpool.

The Hawkesbury river peaked at 14.18 metres in North Richmond on Monday morning, above the March 2022 level, while at Windsor the river was expected to reach levels similar to March 2021 and 2022.

Major flooding was also possible along the Wollombi Brook at Bulga into Tuesday, where the waterway was sitting at 3.9 metres and rising, while moderate flood warnings were in place for the Macquarie and Bell rivers.

Some catchments have had more rainfall in the past three days than capital cities such as Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart have in a typical year. Brogers Creek in the Kangaroo Valley received a lashing of 868 mm of rain in the 78 hours to 3pm Monday, while Beaumont received 184 mm in 24 hours.

The Windsor Bridge in north-west Sydney is underwater for the third time this year, with residents again cut off from homes and businesses.

Some 3,900 requests for assistance have been lodged in the state since Friday, including 400 on Sunday evening alone.

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet said there had been 116 flood rescues in the past few days including a family of five, 83 of which took place on Sunday evening.

Offshore, a rescue operation was under way for a cargo ship pushed dangerously close to cliffs on the Sydney coastline amid 8-metre swells and wild weather conditions.

A string of evacuation orders were issued on Monday including for parts of Richmond, Cattai, Sackville North, Richards, Wiseman’s Ferry and Londonderry in Sydney’s north-west.

About 200 registrations had been made at the seven evacuation centres in place on Monday afternoon, while 68 people were put into emergency accommodation.

In some locations where rain has started to ease, the recovery process has begun.

York said there had been extensive storm damage reported since the weekend including fallen trees, damaged roofs and water in homes, and urged people to take care when returning to their homes.

Ashley Sullivan, deputy state duty commander at the SES, told the ABC rivers had risen “a lot quicker than expected” and faster than the community would be used to in past flooding events.

“These floodings in areas are predicted to be of significant height. Much higher than the March 2021 flooding, and the April 2021 flooding and even the flash flooding earlier this year,” Sullivan said.

All major dams in the Sydney network were continuing to overflow, but at a slower rate than on Sunday.

The spill rate from Warragamba dam had fallen from a high of 515 gigalitres – equivalent to one Sydney Harbour – a day on Sunday afternoon to 380 on Monday.

Some 200 ADF troops and two helicopters had been deployed to support the flood effort, while more may be required to assist in clean-up efforts.

SES volunteers have worked more than 10,000 hours since Friday, while more than 1,000 were on the ground on Monday afternoon supported by police and emergency services.

Emergency services minister Murray Watt told the ABC financial assistance including disaster payments would be on the table once NSW formally declared a state of emergency, expected to happen “imminently”.

“This is a terrible thing for anyone to have to go through just once, let alone four times in 18 months. So I’m not surprised to hear that people are at breaking point,” he said.

Greg Mullins, the state’s former fire and rescue commissioner, said the backdrop to La Niña, El Niño and the string of recent floods was climate change.

In the past 18 months, Australia’s east coast has experienced four major floods, while Sydney is in the midst of its wettest year to date with almost 1,700mm so far in 2022.

Mullins said the “frequency and intensity” of natural disasters was changing.

“Just as you’re recovering from the last disaster another one comes along and knocks you off your feet,” he said.

“The best recovery comes from the local community, but if they’re repeatedly hit hard, the concept of resilience starts to go out the window – it’s just too bloody hard.”

“Rainfall now comes in short, sharp bursts rather than long gentle periods, so we’re overwhelmed. This is climate change in action.”

Mullins said he was buoyed the new government had expressed a willingness to listen to experts, which would be key in the recovery phase.

“We have to adapt to climate change as best we can and it’s going to be very expensive because we’ve undercooked emergency service funding and recovery,” he said.

“A good place to start is to stop paying subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”

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