‘We’ve had bad flooding before, but nothing like this’: regional NSW towns cut off by week-long deluge

Flood water began lapping at the cellar door of Peter and Jane Hamshere’s Undercliff Winery just south of Wollombi, in the Hunter region of New South Wales on Wednesday morning. The usually pleasant bubbling brook of Yango Creek had turned into a torrent overnight, and most of the Hamshere’s vines remained submerged on Thursday.

“We’ve had bad flooding before, but nothing like this and we’ve been here 20 years,” Peter Hamshere said, having spent the last 24 hours moving wine stock to higher ground.

“Unfortunately we have some guests staying in our cottage this week and it looks like it’s going to be quite an extended stay, because no one can get out.”

Related: Baby with breathing difficulties rescued from NSW property cut off by flood waters

The week-long deluge in NSW that affected about 60,000 residents in greater western Sydney has continued to threaten communities farther north as the low-pressure system moves to the Hunter, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast.

More than 70 evacuation orders have been issued and 36 warnings remain in place, although levels of the swollen Hawkesbury and Macquarie rivers appeared to be subsiding – or at least stabilising – by late Thursday.

Hamshere conceded there could be worse places to be stranded than in a winery. And this latest predicament has not been as alarming as the bushfires that licked the property’s nearby ridge in 2020.

But even once the waters subside, gaining access to the nearby Wollombi township – where the local pub remains submerged – could be an uncertain prospect. The bridge that connects their area to the village was still several metres under water on Thursday.

Veena Sharma, the manager of the Roseval Caravan Park on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Wiseman’s Ferry, said management and the park’s residents were ordered to evacuate on Monday.

“We’ve been told it’s probably going to be another few days before we can get access to the property again,” Sharma said, comparing this week’s floods to those that hit the region in March.

“People I’ve spoken to say that it is worse than the March flood levels, so if I’m going by March, there’ll probably be power lines and trees down and debris and maybe even another sinkhole.

“All 88 cabins were up to the roof in water in March – we’ve been told it’s even beyond that this time.”

Overnight on Wednesday, State Emergency Services conducted 50 flood rescues and two NSW lifesavers used an inflatable dinghy to rescue a baby experiencing breathing problems on a NSW property cut off by flood waters.

Singleton in the Hunter region was one of the hardest hit areas, with flooding from the Hunter River closing the New England Highway in both directions, cutting off the township of more than 20,000.

On Thursday morning, Singleton remained on high alert after the river peaked at 13.7 metres, but by the afternoon the waters were receding.

The community of Bulga, 20kms south, remained cut off on Thursday in what the Bureau of Meteorology described as the area’s worst flood since 1952.

The village of Yarramalong, south of Newcastle on the NSW Central Coast, also remained cut off and reliant on emergency services for deliveries of food and medication after suffering its fourth flood in six months.

Related: Federal government pledges $1,000 disaster payment for NSW flood victims as threat moves north

While not under imminent threat of flooding, on the other side of the Blue Mountains Dubbo residents woke on Thursday morning to a warning their water was no longer safe to drink. The boiled water alert included the Firgrove, Wongarbon, Eumungerie, Ballimore, Mogriguy, and Brocklehurst communities, and was expected to remain in place for seven days.

Dubbo mayor, Mathew Dickerson, said debris, including animal waste and carcasses, had caused the turbidity level of the Macquarie River to rise above safe standards on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning the levels remained unacceptably high.

“There is this very small possibility of Cryptosporidium being in the water, so with that potential risk, we’ve had to tell people today they’ve got to boil their [drinking] water. And that order is going to be in place for at least a week because even when we get to the point where we’ve solved the Cryptosporidium issue or the turbidity problem, we’re going to have to flush the water out of our reservoirs which can take up to seven days.”