Australia – Major Flooding Prompts Rescues and Evacuations in New South Wales

Emergency crews in New South Wales (NSW) Australia have carried out hundreds of flood rescues after days of heavy rain caused flooding in eastern parts of the state.

Some areas have recorded more than 500 mm of rain in 48 hours. In a statement on 21 March NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian “parts of the Mid North Coast are experiencing a 1 in 100 year event.” Further rain is expected until 24 March.

Floods in NSW Australia March 2021 after torrential rain. Photo: NSW SES Raindwick

As of 21 March authorities have issued evacuation orders for areas of Mid North Coast, Hunter and Greater Western Sydney Regions.

Crews from NSW State Emergency Service (NSW SES) have been called to more than 7,370 incidents across the state since the severe weather began on 18 March 2021. NSW SES said many of the calls relate to the thousands of trees fallen as a result of the heavy rain. SES teams have also responded to evacuations and more than 700 flood rescues.

Emergency services used helicopters to rescue people trapped in flood water in the Taree area after the Manning River broke its banks.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said however that severe weather conditions had made using helicopters and air rescue difficult and emergency workers had mainly relied on ground crews. The premier also said that other states have provided support to flood-hit areas of NSW, including flood rescue teams.

Video footage showed fast-flowing water damaging roads, breaking down trees and sweeping away houses. Emergency services estimate the total number of damaged houses to be “in the hundreds”.

AS of 21 March over 20 roads are closed in the state as a result of flooding, mostly in Mid North Coast and Western Sydney areas. A number of schools have also been closed.

Roads were closed after floods in NSW Australia March 2021. Photo: NSW SES Maitland


As of 21 March evacuations orders had been issued for 17 locations in eastern parts of the state. NSW SES reported evacuation orders in Mid North Coast Region (8), Hunter Region (1), Sydney Western Region (7) and also 1 in the town of Kempsey (considered under the jurisdiction of Clarence Nambucca Region by SES).

Those asked to evacuate were encouraged to seek assistance from friends and family in the first instance. Where this was not possible, 13 evacuation centres have been provided close to affected areas including Bulahdelah, Port Macquarie, Dungog, Laurieton, Kempsey, South West Rocks, Taree, Wingham, Cundletown, Old Bar, Richmond and North Richmond.

In her 21 March statement, Premier Berejiklian said that flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley could prompt an additional 4,000 evacuations.

Rainfall, Rivers and Dams

Heavy rainfall began late last week. According to Bureau of Meteorology figures, Smiths Lake in the Mid North Coast region recorded 178.8 mm of rain in 24 hours to 18 March 2021, while Kempsey recorded 225.8 mm of rain in the following 24 hour period.

In 48 hours to 20 March the town of Nambucca Heads in Mid North Coast recorded over 560 mm of rain and Comboyne 465 mm.

NSW SES reported several rivers have overflowed, including the Gloucester, Manning, Hastings, Hawkesbury and Nepean. The Manning River at Taree reached 5.65 metres on 20 March, well above Major Flood Stage of 3.70 metres.

As of 21 March the Hawkesbury River at North Richmond, the Colo River at Upper Colo and the Hastings River at Wauchope were all above Major Flood Stage. Rivers in 9 other locations were at Moderate Flood Stage.

Meanwhile Sydney’s main water source, the Warragamba Dam, started overflowing on 20 March, threatening communities down river in Western Sydney. The dam feeds the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers, among others.

WaterNSW said “Heavy rain is generating a major spill event at Warragamba Dam, with inflows from the catchment likely to sustain large-volume spill activity for days.”

“We are also expecting to see spills at Nepean, Cataract, Cordeaux and Avon dams,” WaterNSW added.

NSW SES is also advising residents downstream of the Lower Mooney Dam near Somersby in Central Coast Region to prepare to evacuate after the dam started to overflow on 21 March.

Levels of the Manning River at Taree, NSW, Australia, March 2021. Image: BoM
Levels of the Hastings River at Wauchope, NSW, Australia, March 2021. Image: BoM
Levels of the Hawksbury River at North Richmond, NSW, Australia, March 2021. Image: BoM

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