Australia flooding: Victims rescued from treetops and roofs as thousands stranded across New South Wales

Hundreds of stranded people in Australia’s southeast region were rescued by helicopters and boats on Tuesday after rivers rose rapidly, inundating houses and cutting off entire towns.

More than a dozen helicopters were deployed to rescue residents from rooftops in the flood-ravaged towns of New South Wales, the state emergency service said.

Over 200 flood rescue operations were conducted in the state over the past 24 hours, while 24 warnings remained, it added.

At least 1,000 people in the worst-hit town of Forbes were told to evacuate their homes early on Tuesday due to the rising Lachlan River, just two weeks after the town was last flooded.

“They can’t believe this could happen twice in such a short period of time,” town mayor Phyllis Miller told ABC television. “I’m an optimist in my life but this is really heartbreaking.”

Steph Cooke, the emergency services minister, said some of the Forbes residents were yet to return to their flood-damaged homes that are likely to see even more flooding.

According to officials, nearly 600 properties in Forbes are likely to get inundated with the river set to match levels hit during the floods in 1952.

New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet said rescue efforts were focused on Forbes and the smaller neighbouring town of Eugowra, where 14 aircraft were pressed into action.

Flood damage in the town of Canowindra
Flood damage in the town of Canowindra

“We do expect more heavy rainfall over the weekend. It’s not taking much rain to cause flash flooding anywhere across our state,” the premier said.

A La Nina weather pattern, which is associated with above-average rainfall, has created a flooding emergency that has lasted for two months.

Parts of southwest New South Wales and northeast Victoria were lashed with rains over the weekend, with Cowra town receiving 4.8 inches of downpour over 24 hours to Monday morning, the highest daily rainfall in 118 years.

Although rains have subsided, authorities have warned that the danger is not over yet.

“It is sunny out there at the moment, but the waters are still flowing into catchment areas and creating severe risk to communities,” emergency services commissioner Carlene York said during a media briefing.

The heavy downpour also caused the biggest blackout in South Australia since 2016 when the entire state went dark. Nearly 163,000 homes and businesses went out of power after over 400,000 lightning struck the southern part of the country on Sunday.

Flooded highways near several inland towns were hindering rescue operations which emergency services said would be the biggest flood rescue operations in the state’s history.