Thousands of people on Australia’s east coast fled their homes Wednesday as torrential rains tracked north after unleashing floods in Sydney that submerged communities, roads and bridges under mud-brown water.
New South Wales authorities issued fresh flood alerts north of Australia’s largest city and warned that rising, rain-swollen rivers still posed a danger in parts of Sydney despite easing rainfall in the city.
“This event is far from over,” the state’s Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
Since the floods began over the weekend, emergency services have issued more than 100 evacuation orders.
A total 85,000 people have been told to leave their homes immediately or be ready to depart imminently so they will not be stranded by rising floodwaters.
Across Sydney’s western fringe, rivers broke their banks and large areas have been transformed into inland lakes, with mud-brown waters invading homes while cutting off roads and bridges.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the affected area Wednesday, promising to look for “long-term solutions” after multiple flooding disasters across Australia’s east coast in the past 18 months.
Albanese said that while “Australia has always been subject of floods, of bushfires”, scientists have warned climate change would make such events more frequent and intense.
“What we are seeing, unfortunately, is that play out,” he said.
There were 21 flood rescues across New South Wales overnight, and on Wednesday more than 1,000 emergency service workers were in the field.
The federal government has declared a natural disaster in 23 flooded parts of the state, unlocking relief payments to stricken residents.
Many people affected have lived through successive east coast floods that struck in 2021 and then again in March this year when more than 20 people were killed.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the weather system was expected to move off coast later this week.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Insurance Council of Australia, said he expected the Sydney floods would be declared a “catastrophe” by the insurance industry.
He said 2,700 insurance claims have been lodged by Tuesday from Sydney alone, and more were anticipated as people were able to return to their homes.
Hall said there had been Aus$5 billion ($3.4 billion) in catastrophe claims made in Australia this year.
It was “untenable” for homes that had flooded four times in the past 18 months to remain in the insurance pool, Hall said, adding: “We’ve got to stand back and ask the question, ‘Have we built homes in the wrong spot?'”