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'Just like a nightmare': Thousands evacuated as NSW floods

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Thousands of people have been evacuated on the NSW mid-north coast and western Sydney, as rivers flood and unrelenting torrential rain continues to lash much of the state’s east coast.

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There are 20 evacuation orders in place running from the mid-north coast down to Illawarra, including western Sydney, with more expected to be declared today.

People in Kempsey’s CBD were told by the State Emergency Service to evacuate by midnight with major flooding possible along the Macleay River at Kempsey and Smithtown this morning.

The SES is warning the deluge will continue and more evacuations are likely.

Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud says the situation ‘”could get a lot worse”.

The catchment areas are already saturated and rain in those already deluged areas are at risk of flash flooding.

Evacuation orders are now in place for low lying areas of Kempsey, Macksville, Port Macquarie, the lower Macleay, Wauchope and Rawdon Island, Taree and Wingham.

People are being asked to move possessions up high, take pets, essential items, warm clothes, medicines, insurance documents and valuables with them and stay with family or friends, or head to evacuation centres.

Much of the mid-north coast that was ablaze at the end of 2019 is now underwater.

Port Macquarie restaurateur Nathan Tomkins says the past few days have been a nightmare rollercoaster.

After record flooding at the Hastings River over the weekend, Tomkins’ restaurant was inundated with neck-high water.

After surveying the damage on Sunday he says the venture he has spent 24 years building is in ruins.

“The water just went right through and just destroyed everything – there is nothing left,” he told ABC TV on Monday.

“This is just like a nightmare, it really is. I’ve got so many friends and family members that are just hurting at the moment from all this, who have lost their homes, lost their cars, lost their businesses.

“I’m feeling like I’m on a roller-coaster. I woke up this morning and I just pinch myself to go, ‘Okay, this is not real’. But it’s real.”

Elsewhere, Kempsey has copped one of the highest rainfalls, recording 173 mm between 9am Sunday and 4am on Monday, and it’s not letting up.

Heavy rain is likely to lead to flash flooding and will remain a serious risk for the Northern Rivers and mid-north coast on Monday and Tuesday, The Bureau of Meteorology warned.

The Hunter and Central Tablelands districts remain at risk.

Overnight, emergency workers conducted 150 more flood rescues and responded to 2000 calls for help, taking the total so far for the weekend so far to more than 10,000.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said the NSW government was expected to confirm later on Monday the Australian Defence Force would move in to support the SES.

“That will include logistics, obviously, assistance with making sure we make safe our communities,” he told Nine.

He also said it was only a matter of time before lives are lost in the disaster.

The most critical area was the mid-north coast where communities were facing the worst flooding conditions since 1929.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while NSW had not yet made a formal request, he expected the ADF would be deployed to help with the recovery.

“These are very, very serious storms and floods,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.

“It’s another testing time for our country.”

Nearly 200 schools are closed across the state.

“Safety has to come first,” Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said.

Communities along the Hawkesbury River in NSW are also bracing for once-in-a-generation flooding that could displace thousands of residents and disrupt utilities for months.

The BoM expects the worst flooding event to the area northwest of Sydney since November 1961.

Floodwaters are expected to inundate places such as Windsor, Pitt Town, North Richmond, Freemans Reach and Colo.

Already 2800 residents had been evacuated and Littleproud said that had the potential to escalate to 54,000 if BoM predictions eventuate.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to get to that but that’s the potential scale of this disaster,” he told ABC Radio national.

Residents in affected areas “need to understand this is a very very serious situation, a dangerous situation that they are in. Unless they understand and prepare for that they are putting their lives and their family’s lives at risk,” he said.

The Hawkesbury flood is predicted to reach peaks of up to 15 metres and the SES says homes and properties will be flooded, some up to roof height.

The floods will cut off evacuation routes and cause lasting outages to utilities, the SES said as it urged residents to prepare to evacuate.

“Extensive outages of water, electricity, sewerage, telecommunications and gas are expected to last many weeks or months,” the SES said.

Flooding along the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers comes after the Warragamba Dam spilled over.

Parts of Penrith and other areas along the Nepean were ordered to evacuate on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Queensland motorists are being urged to avoid floodwaters, with the possibility of more heavy downpours in the state’s southeast.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service received more than 300 calls for assistance on Sunday as heavy rain caused a number of Gold Coast rivers to break their banks.

The BoM says an emergency flood alert for the Currumbin, Tallebudgera and Mudgeeraba catchments has been cancelled but the risk remains.

“The threat of widespread heavy rain has eased in southeast Queensland but the potential for isolated heavy falls with thunderstorms still exists,” the bureau said in an alert this morning.

“The situation will continue to be monitored and further warnings will be issued if necessary.”

Water was still washing over a number of river crossings this morning, particularly along the Coomera River at the northern end of the coast.

Queensland Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan urged people to heed warnings after a number of drivers became caught in floodwaters.

“It is imperative that people stay abreast of the weather warnings and also that everyone take a very cautious approach when driving,” he said.

“Severe storms are dumping heavy falls, leading to flash flooding.

“We all have a responsibility to make good decisions on the road to keep other drivers and ourselves safe but that is especially the case during extreme weather events.

“If it’s flooded forget it.”

-AAP

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