WINDSOR, AUSTRALIA (AFP) – Australia’s emergency services yesterday ordered 200,000 people to flee from the path of a wild storm that has killed 13 people in a week of record-setting east coast floods, but the city of Sydney escaped the worst of the deluge.
Authorities issued severe rain and wind warnings for a 400-kilometre stretch of the coast as water levels rose rapidly – including in suburbs around Sydney, Australia’s largest city and home to five million people.
The unpredictable storm front has crawled southwards along the east coast from Queensland to New South Wales, creating havoc as rivers and reservoirs broke their banks with water swamping homes up to their roofs.
A low-pressure system sat off the coast hundreds of kilometres north of Sydney, dumping the heaviest rain in that area and sparing the city from a feared downpour, said meteorologist Ben Domensino of Weatherzone.
“Sydney escaped the heaviest falls today,” he told AFP, predicting that the storm would weaken by today.
The Warragamba Dam in southwestern Sydney, which supplies 80 per cent of the city’s water, has been spilling over since the early hours of Wednesday.
The forecast of peak overflow at the dam was downgraded by nearly half yesterday because rainfall in the dam’s catchment areas was less than had been predicted.
Major floods are still under way in some areas west of Sydney along the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers – which snakes across the city’s suburbs – said a spokeswoman for the New South Wales bureau of meteorology.
“That’s a system that is very big and it will take a while for it to ease off,” she warned.
In the historic town of Windsor – where many of Australia’s oldest surviving European buildings are – Paul Caleo joined other locals watching the Hawkesbury River rise above the local bridge, cutting off access to homes and farms. Across the submerged bridge, an almost 120-year-old home stood alone on high ground surrounded by floodwaters.
“The river by its very nature is unpredictable,” Caleo said.