A mother and son were confirmed dead, cars became trapped on flooded roads, thousands ordered to evacuate and whole suburbs cut off on Tuesday as parts of Sydney were inundated in a biblical deluge.
Australia’s death toll from the floods rose to 21 as a massive stretch of the New South Wales coast endured dangerous winds and heavy rains, causing landslides and wild surf conditions as a second east coast low moved in.
Some 40,000 people were told to leave their homes in NSW, covering more than a dozen Sydney suburbs, including parts of the northern beaches.
Two bodies were discovered in western Sydney on Tuesday morning amid the rising flood waters – a 67-year-old mother and her 34-year-old son from Wentworthville – whose abandoned car was found earlier. It brought the death toll across the state to eight.
The worst of the flooding on Tuesday affected some northern suburbs and the northern beaches. Dramatic footage showed Roseville Bridge, which crosses Middle Harbour, swamped with water on Tuesday afternoon, trapping cars and causing major delays.
Residents in low-lying areas below Manly Dam were urged to evacuate immediately as the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, warned the dam had begun spilling, potentially affecting some 2,000 people and 800 homes.
The State Emergency Service later amended the order to an evacuation warning as water levels at the dam dropped slightly.
In nearby Dee Why, water up to a metre deep surged down a main thoroughfare.
At Mackellar girls campus in Manly Vale, students watched cars float past the windows in deep water. One parent at the school said her daughter had to wade through water to get out of the school.
“An email was sent about 1pm advising us to pick up kids from Quirk Road. They were calling kids’ names as we arrived over the loudspeaker to leave.
“Water was over the top of cars and spilling into the bottom levels of the lower blocks. My daughter had to walk through knee-deep water to get out as she was in the hall.”
There were 59 evacuation orders in place from Kempsey in northern NSW down to the Illawarra, with a further 15 evacuation warnings affecting 20,000 residents.
Sydney Trains implored people to avoid nonessential travel as water pooled at platforms across the city, while the bureau warned driving conditions were dangerous in all suburbs amid slippery, flooded roads.
Sydneywas pummelled with 95.4mm of rain during the 24 hours to 9am Tuesday, making it the wettest start to the year on record, and the deluge only intensified throughout the day. Figures from the Bureau of Meteorology showed central Sydney had experienced its seventh wettest summer ever, even before Tuesday’s downpour.
Authorities closed many of the main roads surrounding the Georges River in the south-west of the city, including Henry Lawson Drive and Milperra Road, with entire sections of streets completely underwater.
Many residents could only watch on as the water swallowed up their homes and cars. Thousands of residents in the south-west were ordered to evacuate on Monday night as heavy rain swelled rivers.
The usually bustling Newbridge Road was closed by authorities, with the river having risen up to 3.65m earlier on Tuesday, and with the water reaching up to 1.5m in residents’ homes.
Anthony Lippis, who lives just off Newbridge Road, said the water came into his home “in a flash”.
“I lost my car, and we didn’t have enough time to save it. It’s heartbreaking. Every time this happens we need to move everything up a level, and it is exhausting, it’s devastating for everybody.”
The Blue Mountains was declared a natural disaster area as landslips and collapsed roads wreaked havoc on commuters.
“These thunderstorms are slow-moving. Intense rainfall that may lead to dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding is likely,” the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Dean Narramore from the Bureau of Meteorology said it had been a “devastating week” for the state, with the conditions not expected to ease until Thursday.
“Since 9 this morning, we have seen 50 to 100mm [of rain] in the northern suburbs and that is pushing up to the Central Coast. We have seen a flash flooding … likely to move further north in the coming days,” he said.
“Both the Hawkesbury River and the Nepean River are in danger of major flooding with many locations experiencing levels equal to or greater than what we saw in March of 2021.”
Rainfall in excess of 80mm was detected in a two-hour period in Marrickville, Kentlyn and Lucas Heights on Monday. In the 12 hours to 6.22pm, Mittagong was lashed with 197mm of rain.
Six-hour rainfall totals between 70 and 120mm were predicted for the Hunter, Sydney, Illawarra, South Coast and parts of the Central Tablelands. Isolated totals in excess of 150mm were possible.
There were 25 flood warnings in place across NSW from the mid-north coast to the south coast, while all but two of the state’s major dams were at 100% capacity.
Major flooding was possible at Kempsey from Tuesday afternoon, with a possible peak near the major flood level of 6.6m at the Macleay River.
The last time flood waters reached that level was in the 2013 floods, when the river reached 7.1m. Other rivers, including the Hawkesbury, were flooding at levels exceeding last week and surpassing 2021.
The NSW State Emergency Service fielded more than 2,500 calls for assistance and carried out more than 200 flood rescues. Nearly 900 people were in temporary accommodation on Tuesday.
Perrottet said there needed to be “frank assessments” of the state’s disaster mitigation strategies once the severe weather event had subsided.
In Queensland, severe thunderstorms with damaging winds were expected to hit between Ayr and Gympie on Tuesday afternoon, and more storms were forecast for Brisbane and the south-east of the state on Wednesday.
The state recorded its 13th flood death after the body of a 31-year-old man was discovered at the Condamine River in Warwick.
Between 200 and 400mm of rainfall were recorded over the catchment in the past week. Renewed river rises were occurring downstream of the Loudoun Bridge, expected to remain above 8m at Condamine in the coming days as upstream waters arrived.
The Balonne River at Warkon was sitting at 10.03m and rising. Major flooding was also occurring downstream at Weribone.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said on Tuesday lives had been “severely impacted” by the extreme weather event to an extent Queenslanders had never seen before.
“Ipswich alone has had some 560 homes and businesses that have been inundated,” she said. “It’s absolutely overwhelming to see people’s lives basically on the streets.”