Tens of thousands of Sydney residents have been told to evacuate their homes as severe storms and flash flooding inundated swathes of Australia’s largest city on Tuesday.
The national weather bureau warned of “a tough 48 hours ahead” for the city, with 60,000 people subject to evacuation orders and warnings across the affected areas, according to emergency services.
The death toll from a week of what officials have called “unprecedented” floods across much of Australia’s east coast rose to 18 on Tuesday, as police continued to search for a mother and son whose car was discovered abandoned in a stormwater canal in Sydney’s flood-hit west.
“It’s very much the watery equivalent of the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires,” emergency services spokesperson Phil Campbell told AFP.
In the past week the scale of the damage to property and wildlife was similar to those devastating bushfires, he said, which ravaged Australia’s east for months in late 2019 and early 2020.
“We have also had a similar effect on communities in terms of dislocation with roads closed, infrastructure damaged, power outages,” Campbell said.
In the northern reaches of the state of New South Wales – where floodwaters last week destroyed homes, washed away cars and stranded hundreds of locals on their roofs – the long, slow cleanup is underway.
There are 800 people in emergency accommodation in the state’s Northern Rivers region alone, state emergency services commissioner Charlene York.
In Mullumbimby, a town cut off from phone service, internet and outside help for days, local Casey Whelan told AFP that “lots of people in my street can’t get flood insurance”.
“They will have no way to rebuild,” he said.
Australia has been at the sharp end of climate change, with droughts, deadly bushfires, bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and floods becoming more common and intense as global weather patterns change.