Worst floods since 1971 hit parts of New South Wales, Australia

Worst floods since 1971 hit parts of New South Wales, Australia

About 18 000 people have evacuated their homes after torrential rains hit New South Wales, Australia, causing severe flooding in many parts of the state on Saturday and Sunday, March 20 and 21, 2021. More evacuations are expected as the severe weather is forecast to continue mid-week.

  • The deluge has inundated coastal areas of NSW, including parts of Sydney, prompting authorities to warn eight million residents to avoid unnecessary travel. 
  • Several hard-hit areas recorded 250 mm (10 inches) of rain in a 24-hour period, while most of the coast has seen March rainfall records broken.
  • The government has signed 34 natural disaster declarations, as of March 21.

Heavy downpours began Friday, March 19, causing severe flooding which as described by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) as "potentially life-threatening".

As the severe weather continued into the weekend, hundreds of schools were shut and about 18 000 people have been forced to evacuate. Parts of the state experienced the worst flooding in 50 years, authorities said Sunday.

Floodwaters raged from Bellingen to Port Macquarie, Mount Seaview, Wauchope and Gloucester, and Wingham. The Kindee Bridge peaked at 12.1 m (40 feet) on Saturday, March 20, breaking the 2013 major flood record.

By Saturday afternoon, officials had issued nine evacuation orders for 15 areas.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian stated that the region was experiencing a "one-in-100-year" event, and 34 areas have been declared natural disaster areas.

"I don’t know any time in a state history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic."

She added, "Whilst we don't think things will worsen on the Mid North Coast, definitely conditions will continue, so the rainfall will continue across the parts that have already been affected."

Flooding risk and evacuation warnings were in force for about 13 areas in the state, including the Hunter, one of Australia's major wine regions. Several dams, including Warragamba, Sydney's main water supply, overflowed, causing river levels to surge.

BOM flood operations manager, Justin Robinson, noted that the flooding was one of the biggest that "we are likely to see for a very long time."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament that Australia's defense force was expected to be called in to help with clean-up and recovery. The deluge has also affected the COVID-19 vaccine delivery to NSW, disrupting the country's plans to deliver the first doses to nearly six million people over the next few weeks.

BOM has issued minor to moderate flood warnings, road weather alert, hazardous surf warnings, flood watches, marine wind warnings, and severe weather warnings for parts of NSW. More evacuations are expected as the severe weather is forecast to continue mid-week.

The government has declared a natural disaster for 16 areas on March 20 -- Armidale, Bellingen, Central Coast, Cessnock, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour Dungog, Kempsey, Lake Macquarie City, Maitland City, Mid-Coast, Nambucca Valley, Newcastle, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Port Stephens, Tenterfield; and 18 on March 21 --  Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Cumberland, Canterbury Bankstown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Hornsby, Inner West, Ku-ring-gai, Liverpool, Northern Beaches, Parramatta, Penrith, Sutherland, The Hills, Wollondilly.

Featured image credit: NSW RFS

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