Stormy weather with extreme rain has flooded entire streets in the Australian coastal metropolis of Sydney and also caused significant damage in the surrounding area. The dam and other dams, which are most important for the drinking water supply of the city of over a million people, had to open their floodgates at the weekend after as much rain fell in one day as is normally the case in the entire month of April.

Several bridges were closed and residents in low-lying residential areas were asked to get themselves and their belongings to safety. In more than 300 cases, residents of the state of New South Wales had to be rescued from houses and cars trapped by the floodwaters, as the civil protection agency announced. Over the course of Sunday the water levels fell again and the first clean-up work began.

The disastrous continuous rain on Australia’s east coast had already started on Thursday. The region around Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, recorded the highest amount of rainfall in two years in 24 hours. And it got even worse: by Saturday morning, another 100 to 200 liters of rain per square meter, in some places even more than 250 liters, fell on the already completely sodden ground. For comparison: According to the German Weather Service, precipitation in Berlin is around 575 liters per square meter – in a whole year.

The situation became particularly precarious for communities near the Warragamba Dam, which provides 80 percent of the drinking water supply for Sydney and its approximately five million residents. Because their retention basin was full, the flood gates were opened automatically – and huge amounts of water poured downstream.

Waves up to nine meters high on Sydney’s coast

Several thousand people in New South Wales were evacuated. According to civil protection, thousands of emergency calls were received from the population, and more than 4,000 volunteers supported the authorities in the rescue and clean-up work.

In Sydney in particular, there were severe disruptions to public transport, with many trains, buses and ferries standing still. In some places there were landslides that washed boulders weighing tons onto roads. On Sydney’s coast, waves whipped up by gusts of wind reached up to nine meters high, according to a report by the ABC news channel.

The broadcaster described the case of a young couple who, along with their wooden holiday hut, were swept away by raging waters in the coastal town of Wollongong and barely escaped with their lives – judging by the remains of the shattered hut, the two were very lucky. “They were understandably pretty shaken, but only have a few scratches on their legs,” said a neighbor who rushed to help the couple. “I can’t believe they got off so lightly.”

Another man was less lucky: his lifeless body was pulled from the water near a nature reserve in the Sydney suburb of Penrith. It was initially unclear whether he died as a result of the storm.

Airlift for cut-off community in Blue Mountains?

In the tourist-popular Blue Mountains region west of Sydney, where the weather bureau had warned of “dangerous and life-threatening flash floods”, a small town was cut off from the outside world. The only road connecting the rural community of Megalong Valley collapsed due to a landslide. According to ABC, local authorities are now considering building a temporary bridge and helicopter supply flights to bring medicine and food to residents.

Operations at Sydney Airport were largely back to normal over the weekend after numerous connections were canceled and arriving aircraft were diverted on Friday. Overall, the authorities expect that the risk of flooding will continue for days despite the easing rain due to water draining from higher areas and dams.