Renewed flood warnings stretched across Australia's east coast Tuesday, with tens of thousands of residents in Sydney ordered to evacuate overnight as torrential rains caused flash flooding across the already saturated New South Wales coast.
Sydneysiders were warned to brace for "a tough 24 hours or even 48 hours ahead" by Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Dean Narramore on Tuesday morning.
"There is no past history similar to this event. We've come out of the La Nina, or we're coming out of that. The forecasts can never tell us exactly where the heavy rainfall is going to fall, and the flow of the water has been quite dramatic," said Carlene York, the NSW State Emergency Services commissioner, referring to the La Nina weather event associated with increased rainfall currently affecting Australia.
According to Narramore, minor to major flooding was occurring across the entire New South Wales coast from the Queensland to Victoria border, a distance of more than 1,500 kilometers.
The death toll from widespread flooding across southeast Queensland and New South Wales over the past couple of weeks rose to at least 20 on Tuesday, according to local media, including two deaths in a stormwater canal in Sydney's west.
Narramore said police put out a call for assistance to rescue a mother and son from a car found in Coopers Creek Canal on Monday. Two bodies were pulled from the water on Tuesday, though they are yet to be identified, according to local police.
Water in the area rose from "ankle deep to about neck-high in a matter of minutes," NSW Detective Superintendent Paul Devaney told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. concerning the two deaths.
While the rain is expected to ease heading into the afternoon, damaging winds of up to 90 kilometers per hour are expected to pick up overnight, bringing the likelihood of downed trees and powerlines due to already saturated soil, Narramore said.
Meanwhile, a massive cleanup effort continues in northern NSW after record flooding hit the region last week, leaving several towns still cut off and without power, with an estimated 2,500 homes uninhabitable.
Frustration is mounting among flood-hit communities at the slow rollout of government assistance, with many towns resorting to volunteer-led rescue and recovery efforts.
NSW State Premier Dominic Perrottet apologized for the shortcomings after touring the affected regions last week, telling ABC's Radio National on Tuesday that his government would "need to have frank assessments" of the response.
In a media conference on Tuesday afternoon, Perrottet said 600 Australian Defense Force personnel had been deployed to the region to assist in the cleanup, with the number expected to reach 1,300 by the end of the day.