More than 18,000 evacuated amid flooding in Australia

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March 22 (UPI) — More than 18,000 people in Australia have been evacuated from their homes as rain continues to flood the southeastern state of New South Wales.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Monday that more than 15,000 people were evacuated from their middle-north coast residences with an additional 3,000 evacuated from the Nepean-Hawkesbury region, which is just outside of Sydney, with more evacuations potentially to be issued.

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“As we speak there are literally tens of thousands of people across the state on tenterhooks because of the flood situation,” she told reporters during a press conference.

Following days of rain that started Tuesday, the NSW Rural Fire Service said many areas in the province “resemble an inland sea.”

Some locations have received more than 35 inches of rain between Tuesday morning and early Monday, the Bureau of Meteorology for New South Wales said. In the past 24 hours, Nambucca Heads, which is about 316 miles north of Sydney, received 9.6 inches of rainfall.

Nineteen evacuation orders have so far been issued with “potentially more to come,” Berejiklian said, urging people under evacuation warnings to be ready and have their bags packed in case they are told to leave their homes.

Thirty-eight natural disaster areas have been declared, she said, enabling adults to receive up to $772 and $308 for each child impacted.

However, she said many of those living in the flooded areas were also negatively affected by massive wildfires that hit the country during the 2019-2020 fire season and before that a draught.

“I don’t know any time in our state’s history where we’ve had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle a pandemic,” she said. “But I know for many people that they’ll feel it’s a breaking point when you’ve been through three of four incidents, which are life changing on top of each other. It can make you feel like you’re at breaking point but know that we are thinking of you.”

The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology said 23 flood warnings had been issued with the state experiencing flooding not seen in decades.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told lawmakers Monday that 1,400 State Emergency Service first responders have conducted more than 700 flood rescues and responded to more than 7,500 calls for help.

“And there is serious risk still ahead,” he said. “Heavy rainfall is likely to continue up much of the eastern half of New South Wales and into southern Queensland today and tomorrow.”

The weather has impacted 207 public schools, the NSW government said, prompting 151 to close, 20 to open with minimal supervision and 36 to operate with some damage reported.

“Given the continuing bad weather, it may take some days to gain access to sites to assess the damage,” it said.

The NSW Rural Fire Service said that once the rain stops and the water begins to recede, “there will be a massive combined effort to clean up.”