Sydney Dam Spills as Australian Floods Force Evacuations

More than 2,000 residents in northwestern Sydney are being evacuated as heavy rain caused the dam that supplies the city’s water to spill, adding to floods threatening much of the Australian state of New South Wales.

Residents and caravan parks in low-lying areas along the Hawkesbury River and in nearby communities were asked to leave their homes early today, State Emergency Service Commissioner Murray Kear said at a press conference broadcast on Sky News. Warragamba Dam, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Sydney, began spilling for the first time in more than 13 years late yesterday, he said.

Three-quarters of the state is affected by flood waters and about 3,500 people are subject to evacuation amid “unprecedented” rainfall, Kear said. Floodwaters in northern New South Wales last month damaged homes and ruined cotton crops, one year after natural disasters cost the Australian economy A$9 billion ($9.7 billion).

“The rain is continuing to fall and will for the next two days,” Kear said. “We are expecting a number of major bridges in the western part of Sydney to be cut.”

The bridges affected include those at North Richmond and Windsor as the Hawkesbury River rises to more than 7 meters (22 feet) above normal.

River Peak

The Hawkesbury-Nepean river system is continuing to rise and will probably peak at about 10 meters above normal late tomorrow or early March 5, Kear said. Assuming rains clear after the weekend, the river will take 48 hours to subside from the peak, he said.

About 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain is forecast to fall in the next 48 hours, Kear said.

More than 1,500 people have already been evacuated from the towns of Cowra, Cooma and Goulburn, in the state’s southeast, the SES said on its website. Parts of Bega, a town of about 4,500 people 400 kilometers south of Sydney, were evacuated on March 1, it said yesterday.

Flooding across roads and low-lying land has isolated about 3,200 people in properties throughout the state, Kear said. Some rescues were conducted in other parts of the state, including the town of Bathurst, he said.

Residents near the Suma Park Dam at Orange, about 250 kilometers west of Sydney, were warned to prepare to evacuate as water spilled and nearby roads were closed, the SES said.

Victoria State

Authorities in the northeastern region of neighboring Victoria state are also monitoring the Goulburn River at locations including Shepparton and McCoys Bridge, the state emergency service said in a statement on its website. As much as 75 millimeters more rain is forecast over the weekend which may cause minor-to-moderate flooding in the lower reaches of the river, it said.

In New Zealand, heavy rain and gale-force winds brought down trees, cut power and damaged homes in Taranaki province on the western coast of the North Island, police said in an e-mailed statement today. Motorists are being urged to stay off roads in the capital, Wellington, and other parts of the lower North Island.

The center of the weather system has moved across the country and off the coast, with gales forecast to ease, MetService New Zealand said on its website.

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