Nearly 100 people have been rescued from floodwaters in New South Wales as powerful storms continue to lash the Australian state.
Three elderly people were found dead on Tuesday in Dungog, north of Sydney, where homes have been washed away by flooding.
Some 200,000 homes across the state are still without power on Wednesday.
Australia’s weather agency has warned of more heavy rain and high winds before conditions ease later today.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has said that gusts of 100km/h (62mph) are still possible along the coast and that thunderstorms could lead to flash flooding for parts of the Sydney area and Illawarra district.
In other developments:
- A seriously ill baby girl was rescued by emergency crews in the Gillieston Heights suburb of Maitland and taken to hospital
- Police say two elderly women are missing after a car was swept away in Maitland
- The major coal port of Newcastle, north of Sydney, has stopped all ship movements due to the storm
- The State Emergency Service (SES) says it has received nearly 9,000 calls for help and has conducted 93 flood rescues
“We’re seeing a continuation of the wind, rain, flash flooding, and whilst it is still dangerous, the positive is that there is some easing. But we still have a lot to get through in the next 48 hours,” said NSW State Premier Mike Baird on Wednesday, as quoted by ABC News.
He added that some of the worst hit locations would be declared natural disaster areas.
“To give you a sense of the size and scope – in Dungog there’s more rain that has come down in the last 24 hours than they have seen in a 24-hour period for the past century.”
Earlier, he urged workers to avoid travelling at peak times to try and ease the strain on transport networks struggling to cope with the storm.
A severe weather warning has been cancelled for the Hunter district but is still in place for the Sydney area and Illawarra because of damaging winds, heavy rain and very heavy surf.
Local media report that SES helicopters have been able to take off for the first time in 36 hours and will be used to take supplies to the worst affected areas such as Dungog.
The town of Greta near Maitland has also been badly hit by floodwaters.
One resident told ABC News that the water had risen so fast that he had been forced to climb a tree to avoid being swept away with his house.
Henry Krayevski said that the water had reached waist height by the time he called the emergency services.
“About lunch time it was lapping at the back steps and I thought I had better get out of here. I put a pair of jeans on, a jumper and tried to get out the front door.”
By the time his rescuers reached him, Mr Krayevski said he was clinging to a tree outside with the floodwater at chest height.
Maitland itself has also had more than 300mm of rainfall since Tuesday morning.
An evacuation warning has been issued for the area around the Manly lagoon and the surrounding district.
The Mayor of Warringah, Michael Regan, told the BBC that the intense rain and wind had taken their toll on the northern beaches.
“Residents are telling me they’ve seen nothing like this before,” he said. “What happens now depends on how much more rain we get and how high the tides are.”
SES Deputy Commissioner Steven Pearce told ABC News that he had never seen a storm such as this.
“We’ve never seen these cyclonic winds last for 24 hours straight. That’s what’s caused the majority of the damage.”
Local media have also reported waves of 15m (50ft) off Sydney.
A Carnival cruise ship that was trapped at sea has entered Sydney harbour, local media report.
State-owned supplier Ausgrid has said that its crews are trying to repair damaged networks in several locations but it has asked for patience as some power lines are still falling.
Travel is still being disrupted in Sydney with heavy showers on Wednesday flooding some roads in the city.
A number of railway lines are still shut because of the storm but some ferry services have resumed in Sydney.
Flights have also been disrupted at Sydney airport, with some international flights diverted.