Thousands of people on Australia’s east coast were cut off yesterday by floodwaters which have claimed two lives, as violent thunderstorms and a series of reported “mini-tornadoes” destroyed homes south of Sydney.
Australia’s State Emergency Services (SES) said that the worst of the flood crisis in the north of New South Wales State appears to have passed, with the waters beginning to subside by yesterday afternoon.
“The rivers up north have pretty much peaked or are peaking,” an SES spokesperson told reporters. “Everything is pretty much on the way down.”
The Macleay River peaked lower than had been forecast in the town of Kempsey, 350km north of Sydney, and the town was spared from major flooding.
Further south, in the town of Port Macquarie, some low-lying areas were inundated by the low pressure system, which travelled down the coast and has swollen river systems from Sydney to Queensland State.
The SES said isolation remained a concern “with around 20,000 [people] cut off across the north and mid-north coasts.”
“The New South Wales SES is monitoring isolated areas and will provide resupply or medical evacuation if required,” it said in a statement.
The SES added that it had undertaken 70 flood rescues since the severe weather began, including from stranded cars, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged the public to avoid the floodwaters.
“Water is a dangerous thing. Deceptively dangerous. Even very low levels of water, if it’s fast moving, can sweep people away,” she said.
A 17-year-old boy was swept into a drainpipe on Friday as he stood in waist-high water in Kew, near Port Macquarie, while collecting golf balls.
The body of a man was also found on Saturday in his submerged car on a road about 20km northwest of Grafton, also on the north coast of New South Wales.
Intense storms bringing high winds and heavy rain also tore through eastern Sydney and other areas overnight, ripping off roofs and bringing down trees.
“Local intense storms with reported ‘mini-tornadoes’ in some locations caused ... significant damage,” the SES said, adding that the worst-hit areas were Sydney’s east, the southern fringe suburb of Narellan and Kiama, further south.
In Kiama, a coastal town about 100km south of Sydney, several homes were destroyed by the powerful storm, with a further seven suffering major damage, the SES spokesperson said.
The latest deluge comes just weeks after torrential rains in the wake of tropical cyclone Oswald flooded parts of Queensland and neighboring New South Wales, and because another cyclone is expected to land on western Australia within days.
Residents between the coastal communities of Port Hedland and Broome, in Australia’s northwest, have been alerted that yesterday a tropical system about 400km north of Port Hedland was likely to become a cyclone.
“During Monday [today] the system will continue to intensify and there is a high risk that it will cross the coast as a severe tropical cyclone on Tuesday or Wednesday,” the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said.