The premier has put much of NSW on an emergency footing and says the state faces a prolonged and dangerous flood crisis that won’t end until late next week.
Gladys Berejiklian says more evacuations will almost certainly be ordered in coming hours, as rain continues to fall on the flooded mid-north coast, and in greater Sydney where Warragamba Dam is spilling.
Authorities expect to be able to tell people living near the catchment of Sydney’s largest water reservoir if they’ll need to flee their homes by about 6pm.
All of the major water courses in greater Sydney are being watched closely, with the rain expected to continue until Thursday or Friday.
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued moderate to major flood warnings for the Hawkesbury, Nepean and Colo Rivers including Menangle, Wallacia, Penrith, North Richmond, Windsor, Putty Road, Sackville, Lower Portland and Wisemans Ferry.
At Warragamba Dam, an hour out of Sydney, the premier said experts were planning for “a potential for a one-in-five-year, one-in-10-year, or one-in-20-year event”. She did not elaborate on what those scenarios would mean.
She warned NSW residents not to underestimate what was ahead, and said vulnerable communities must be ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.
Ms Berejiklian expressed particular concern for residents of the mid-north coast, the Hunter region, the Central Coast, metropolitan Sydney, and the Warragamba Dam catchment.
“The last time we got major floods in NSW the weather event passed in two or three days,” she said.
But the coastal trough that’s caused the flooding is very slow moving, and a new rain belt is due to link up with it early next week, and that could mean weekly rainfall tallies of one metre in some places, forecasters have warned.
“This will be a deep-seated, extreme weather event … It’s not going to be an easy week for us,” the premier said.
“None of us are out of the woods while the storm front is moving south. The rain may not stop till Thursday or Friday. I hope those predictions are wrong.”
She said people must be ready to leave their homes immediately.
“The window for evacuation is not a big one depending on where you live. Some communities already have been advised to stock up and stay home.”
The SES has been swamped with calls for assistance and has responded to 4000 call-outs and 500 direct flood rescues, something that has angered first responders who have had to risk their lives to pluck people from cars driven into floodwaters.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said the number of flood rescues was completely unacceptable and implored motorists not to drive into flood waters.
“If the trajectory is correct and we keep going down this line we will look at 2000 flood rescues before Wednesday, when the majority of the storm should conclude,” he told reporters.
Emergency Service Commissioner Carlene York said SES boats had also rescued people who’d scrambled onto the roofs of homes to escape the rising waters.