Thousands of people across Australia’s southeast were asked to evacuate their homes on Friday, including some in Melbourne’s west, after two days of incessant rains triggered flash flooding and fast-moving waters burst river banks.
Large parts of Victoria state, southern New South Wales and the northern regions of the island state of Tasmania were pounded by an intense weather system with some taking more than a month’s worth of rain since late Wednesday, officials said.
“[This] has led to widespread, major flooding … with some rivers experiencing record flooding and this is only going to continue to move downstream and get worse,” Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Dean Narramore told ABC television.
Footage on social media showed people wading through knee-deep water with their pets and some being rescued in boats.
Many rivers in Victoria, including the Maribyrnong in Melbourne’s west and the Goulburn further north, reached major flood levels, prompting the nighttime evacuation of residents.
The Goulburn River at Seymour, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Melbourne, has peaked above the record 7.64 meters (25 feet) reached in May 1974, data showed.
“It’s far from over, we’ll see waters rise,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told the ABC. “We’ll see more and more waters continuing to rise, more and more houses being inundated, more and more communities being closed off.”
Andrews said the state’s purpose-built Covid-19 quarantine facility, closed last week after Australia scrapped isolation rules, could be reopened to shelter flood-impacted residents.
In Tasmania, the flooding crisis intensified after more evacuation orders overnight, while hundreds of residents in southern New South Wales spent the night in evacuation centers.
Though heavy rains are expected to ease from late Friday, flooding could continue through the weekend, officials said.
Devastating floods have repeatedly struck Australia’s east coast since early last year because of a multi-year La Niña weather phenomenon, which brings more rain.