Emergency services rescued 83 people and evacuated thousands from rising flood waters across New South Wales overnight as the state braced for another day of heavy rain and wild weather.
The east coast low that caused much of the flooding was weakening, but heavy rainfall was still slated for Sydney, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting up to 100mm again on Monday morning, before conditions eased during the afternoon and evening.
Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate overnight and almost 70 evacuation orders were active by the morning, including new evacuation orders issued since midnight for parts of the Lower Hawkesbury downstream of Wiseman’s Ferry, parts of Ebenezer, Riverstone, Pitt Town, Agnes Banks lowlands, south Maroota West, lower Portland and the northern and central parts of Yarramundi.
The worst of the flooding was reported at Hawkesbury-Nepean area, to Sydney’s west and north, but the Illawarra, Bathurst, Blue Mountains, Hunter and Central Coast remained areas of concern for authorities.
The NSW State Emergency Services performed 83 rescues overnight. Most of those rescues involved helping people who had driven into flood waters, something the SES described as “very unfortunate”.
Other residents were leaving it too late to evacuate, the SES said, and becoming stranded in their homes by rapidly rising rivers or flood waters.
Vision showed SES officers wading through fast-moving waters and scaling roofs to help affected residents.
Ashley Sullivan, SES deputy state duty commander, said his volunteers had responded to almost 3,500 requests for assistance since the flood event began. About 400 of those requests for assistance were made on Sunday night alone.
By 8.40am Monday, 32,000 people were subject either to evacuation warnings or an evacuation order.
Sullivan reiterated a plea for residents to consider their movements and stay at home.
“I understand it’s school holidays, but really have a look at your travel plans, if you do have any,” he told the ABC. “If you don’t need to leave home, please, you know, bunker down at home if it’s safe to do so. Obviously, we’ve issued about 70 evacuation orders, mostly in the Hawkesbury-Nepean area.”
Transport for NSW also issued a warning against unnecessary travel on Monday morning, with roads and public transport significantly affected.
Premier Dominic Perrottet urged residents to follow flood warnings and orders from the SES.
“These instructions, warnings, orders, they are not in place for the sake of it,” he said. “They are there to keep you and your family safe.”
“Experiences in the past do not necessarily mean that the flood event will be the same and therefore there could be a worse situation we find ourselves in so please continue to follow those instructions.”
The spill rate from the Warragamba Dam topped 500 gigalitres per day on Sunday. But the spill rate was now slowing and was expected to continue to slow throughout Monday.
In a statement, WaterNSW said the spill rate had fallen to 380 gigalitres a day on Monday morning, down from a high of 515 gigalitres a day on Sunday afternoon.
“Inflow to the dam is occurring at a rate of 240 GL/day, after rain across the catchment overnight was less than forecast,” a spokesperson said.
“All WaterNSW major dams in the Sydney network continue to spill, but the rate is also receding.”
Sullivan said the “majority of our rescues so far have been people driving into flood waters”.
“Overnight and in the last couple of days, we have seen people that have not evacuated early, haven’t evacuated with enough time and that’s meant we’ve had to go in and rescue them because the roads have become flooded, their access route has become flooded and it becomes a rescue for the SES and our emergency partners,” he said Monday morning.
“We have had to go in and rescue a couple of families and their pets because the river rose quickly or they left it too late.”
The region is facing inundation for the third time this year and fourth time in 18 months. Hawkesbury mayor Patrick Connolly said for some residents it might be too much to bear.
“I think that’s probably a logical assumption that some people won’t be able to take this any more and that’s perfectly reasonable,” he told the ABC. “People will decide they’ve had enough and you can understand that.”
Camden mayor Theresa Fedeli said her region was a “strong little place” and would get through the flooding emergency. She said her council area had no evacuations overnight.
“Look, it’s just devastating. We are in disbelief,” she said. “You keep on saying, ‘oh, not again’, but as the mayor of this place, you know, we have to be strong.”
One man drowned in Parramatta River on Saturday afternoon after his kayak capsized at Abbotsford. The cause of his death is still being investigated and will come before the NSW coroner.
The Bureau of Meteorology reduced its warning area for severe weather to exclude Newcastle. It also confirmed the east coast low had weakened.
“The east coast low has weakened into a trough over the Hunter District,” the bureau said in a statement at 4.50am. “Onshore flow south of the trough is still directing humid air onshore, causing moderate to at times heavy rainfall in areas near and to the south of the trough.”
“Drier air will push gradually northwards up the New South Wales coast through the afternoon, clearing most of the rain out of the Illawarra, Blue Mountains and Sydney regions by late this evening.”
It said although rain rates had eased, heavy rainfall could still cause flash flooding in the Illawarra, Blue Mountains, Sydney metropolitan and parts of Hunter (including Central Coast) districts.
“Heavy rainfall is possible over the Sydney metropolitan and Illawarra districts this morning before starting to ease during the afternoon and evening.”
“Six-hourly rainfall totals between 60 to 100mm are possible.”