Thousands of people across southeast Australia have been ordered to evacuate as two days of torrential rain triggered flash flooding in the area.
Large parts of Victoria state, southern New South Wales and the northern regions of the island state of Tasmania saw fast-moving water bursting river banks, after they observed more than a month’s worth of rain since late Wednesday, said officials.
In New South Wales, a 63-year-old man was reported missing in flood waters, while another person was reported missing in central Victoria today, said officials. While no details of the missing person from Victoria town have been released, police found the body of a 46-year-old man in his submerged car in the New South Wales city of Bathurst a day after he died.
“Our river systems… are reaching major flood levels at various times over today, through the weekend and through next week,” said Victoria emergency services chief operations officer Tim Wiebusch.
Also, the country’s second most populous state Victoria has been the worst hit this week, with about 500 homes left flooded and another 500 isolated after the entering of floodwater, said premier Daniel Andrews, as he added that the numbers are expected to go up.
“The real challenge now is we’ve got another rain event next week and the Bureau (of Meteorology) forecasting more rain throughout the next six-to-eight week period and it won’t take a lot of additional water for there to be further flood events,” he said. “So this has only just started and it’s going to be with us for a while.”
Many rivers, including Maribyrnong in Melbourne’s west and the Goulburn in the north, saw a dramatic increase in water level, prompting the night-time evacuation of many residents.
Footage showed people wading through knee-deep water with their pets and some being rescued in boats.
“Everyone is in a state of ‘how is this actually happening?’” Maribyrnong suburb resident Matt Iozzi, who had to evacuate in the early hours of Friday morning, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“I spoke to a few neighbours, everyone was on their way out or planning to leave in the next 30 minutes after seeing how fast the water was rising.”
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, major-to-record flooding was occurring or was forecast to occur on many rivers in Victoria and the island state of Tasmania.
At least 4,700 homes were without power, said Mr Andrews, as he offered a revision over Victoria State Emergency Service’s previous reported figure of 3,500.
Floods also swamped roads, forcing school closures, while emergency crew conducted more than 200 flood rescues.
“In terms of property damage, road, public infrastructure and the sheer volume of water, this is going to set new records,” said Mr Andrews. He added that a decision would be made on Saturday about reopening state’s purpose-built Covid quarantine facility for providing shelter to the flood-impacted residents.
Prime minister Anthony Albanese said the federal government stood ready to provide assistance to the flood-stricken states.
“There are already ADF (Australian Defence Force) personnel on the ground in Victoria… this is a difficult time, my heart goes out to those communities affected at this time,” local media quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, State Emergency Service commander Josh Gamble said complacency is the main reason behind people getting into trouble.
“That is quite significant and we haven’t had that many flood rescues for quite some time, for some years in fact,” Mr Gamble said.
“Many of these people are putting their own lives at risk, their own children in some circumstances, but more importantly, other community members and responders and that’s in all parts of the state, not just metropolitan areas.”
About 1,000 residents of Wedderburn, a small town 200km north of Melbourne, were ordered to urgently evacuate due to the potential breach of a nearby dam.
In Tasmania, the flooding crisis intensified with fresh evacuation orders on Friday, while hundreds of residents in southern New South Wales spent the night in evacuation centres.
Additional reporting by agencies