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30,000 residents on evacuation alert in Sydney after 3 feet of rain

Emergency vehicle on a flooded bridge
An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney on Monday.
(Mark Baker / Associated Press)

More than 30,000 residents of Sydney and its environs were told to evacuate or prepare to abandon their homes Monday as Australia’s largest city faces its fourth, and possibly worst, round of flooding in less than a year and a half.

Days of torrential rain caused dams to overflow and waterways to burst their banks, bringing a new flood emergency to parts of the city of 5 million people.

“The latest information we have is that there’s a very good chance that the flooding will be worse than any of the other three floods that those areas had in the last 18 months,” Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said.

The current flooding might affect areas that were spared during the previous floods in March of last year, March of this year and April, Watt added.

New South Wales state Premier Dominic Perrottet said 32,000 people were affected by evacuation orders and warnings.

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“You’d probably expect to see that number increase over the course of the week,” Perrottet said.

La Niña, amplified by the effects of climate change, brings years of drought to some parts of the world and torrential rain to others.

Emergency services made numerous flood rescues Sunday and early Monday and were getting hundreds more calls for help.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology manager Jane Golding said some areas between Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Wollongong, south of the city, had received more than 3 feet and 3 inches of rain in the previous 24 hours. Some areas have received about 5 feet of rain.

Those totals are near the average annual rainfall for coastal areas of New South Wales.

“The system that has been generating this weather does show signs that it will ease tomorrow, but throughout today, expect more rain,” Golding said.

A ruling this week limits the EPA’s ability to regulate climate pollution by power plants. The court may also block other efforts to fight climate change.

Rain was forecast across New South Wales’ coast, including Sydney, all week, she said.

The Bureau of Meteorology says up to about 5 inches of rain could fall in Sydney on Monday.

The flooding danger was highest along the Hawkesbury River, in northwest Sydney, and the Nepean River in Sydney’s west.

The bureau Monday afternoon reported major flooding in the Nepean communities of Menangle and Wallacia on Sydney’s southwest fringe.

State Emergency Services Commissioner Carlene York said strong winds had toppled trees, damaging roofs and blocking roads. She advised against unnecessary travel.

Off the New South Wales coast, a cargo ship with 21 crew members lost power after leaving port in Wollongong on Monday morning. It was anchored near the coast and tugboats were preparing to take it into safer, open waters.

The ship has engineers on board capable of repairing the engine, port official John Finch told reporters. “Unfortunately, we just happen to be in some atrocious conditions at the moment,” he said, describing 26-foot swells and winds blowing at 34 mph.

An earlier plan to airlift the ship’s crew to safety was abandoned because of bad weather.

As Lake Mead shrinks after almost two decades of severe drought, accumulated items on the lakebed are being exposed.

Repeated flooding was taking a toll on members of a riverside community southwest of Sydney, said Mayor Theresa Fedeli of the Camden municipality, where homes and businesses were inundated by the Nepean River during Sunday night.

“It’s just devastating,” Fedeli said. “I just keep on saying ... we’ve got to be strong, we will get through this. But you know deep down it’s really hitting home hard to a lot of people.”

Perrottet said government and communities needed to adapt to major flooding becoming more common across Australia’s most populous state.

“To see what we’re seeing right across Sydney, there’s no doubt these events are becoming more common. And governments need to adjust and make sure that we respond to the changing environment that we find ourselves in,” Perrottet said.


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