Flooding in central, mid and north coast of NSW has now been declared a natural disaster by the State and Federal Governments.
The declaration allows for critical relief funding to be released into local council areas to launch what is likely to be a lengthy recovery process.
The natural disaster zone extends from the Coffs Harbour and Grafton area in northern NSW into the west to Cessnock and Dungog and up to the Central Coast.
The areas have been inundated in recent days and multiple homes have been flooded, with heavy rainfall forecast continue into next week.
Meanwhile People in flood-hit areas of NSW have been told to leave their homes in the middle of the night as the state’s extreme rain event continues.
The state’s emergency service, meanwhile, says it will be working beyond Easter on the post-flood clean up effort and restoration of key services.
The heavy rain kept falling overnight and into Sunday morning as rivers across NSW and near Sydney overflowed or threatened to flood.
Residents in Pitt Town Bottoms, Pitt Town North, Cornwallis, North Richmond, Grono’s Point, Freemans Reach and Agnes Banks west of Sydney were told to evacuate in the early hours as the Hawkesbury River flooded.
The NSW State Emergency Service on Sunday morning issued orders telling people in these areas to take pets and essential items with them and stay with family or friends, or relocate to an evacuation centre.
SES Deputy Commissioner Daniel Austin said the service was dealing with downed trees, power outages, clearing of debris and damage to houses.
“Whilst a couple of areas have seen some receding flood waters overnight and into this morning, that heavy rainfall returning to those locations today will likely lead to additional peaks on those river systems,” Mr Austin told ABC TV.
“We’re planning well beyond Easter for our own operations … just because the rain may stop on Thursday, the rivers naturally don’t go back to their normal state and then there’s going to be an extended recovery period.”
Moderate flooding also continues along the Colo River, with farmers near the river told to be on alert for flooding and be ready to move livestock.
Flooding was also expected along the Nepean River, with people in low-lying areas told to protect homes by sandbagging doorways and clearing drains.
Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main water source, spilled over on Saturday afternoon, causing river levels to rise along the Nepean and Hawkesbury.
The heavy rain is expected to keep falling on NSW until Wednesday morning and people across the state are on high alert for rising floodwaters.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Saturday said modelling predicted it could be a one-in-25-year rain event and “it’s not going to be an easy week”.
“This will be a deep-seated, extreme weather event,” she told reporters.
“None of us are out of the woods while the storm front is moving south.”
Many areas across eastern NSW recorded more than 100mm of rain over the past 24 hours, particularly in the Blue Mountains. Warragamba was hit by at least 128mm of rain, and Oakdale recorded 143mm.
A severe weather warning for intense rainfall and flooding remains in place covering the majority of the NSW population and the Bureau of Meteorology has issued flood warnings for more than a dozen rivers.
The rain and foul weather is being caused by a coastal low-pressure trough combined with a strong high pressure system in the south.
Bellingen locals on NSW’s mid-north coast and people at a tourist park were advised to evacuate because of the risk of flooding along the Bellinger river.
Evacuation centres were established at Richmond and Bellingen, adding to several others opened in the mid north coast and Hunter regions.
Parts of Port Macquarie, Taree and nearby towns have also flooded.
Mr Austin on Sunday said emergency crews made 750 call-outs overnight on Saturday, and had responded to more than 4500 calls for help since Thursday.
Meanwhile, a bodyboarder in his 60s went missing off the Coffs Harbour coast on Saturday afternoon and crews will resume the search on Sunday.
Two stranded bushwalkers were also rescued in the Blue Mountains on Saturday as they were returning from a camping trip at Katoomba.
Strong winds have also caused damage, with a small tornado ripping through Chester Hill High School in Sydney’s west on Saturday.