- Sydney rainfall totals could hit 150 millimetres
- Wind speeds in Sydney could reach 100km/h
- Brisbane braces for flooding
- Flights cancelled at Sydney Airport
- Drivers urged to avoid travel
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More than 500 Lismore households are preparing to evacuate as heavy rain from ex-tropical Oswald cyclone brings potentially severe flooding to the region.
An SES spokeswoman said at 4pm that volunteers were door-knocking more than 500 residences affected by rising water levels in the northern NSW city.
"We are currently involved in an evacuation warning. We are telling people there is potential for flooding," she said.
The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting the Wilsons River will peak in Lismore at 9.7 metres at midnight on Monday.
"For the entire storm event this is a major incident but at this stage we are simply warning residents," the spokeswoman said. "It's not isolated to just Lismore. The rains are effecting the whole coast," she said.
Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell said a lot of homes were not affected by flooding.
"The people of north and south Lismore have lived with floods for many years. They know when it is safe and when to go. The people understand floods.
"An evacuation centre has been set up at Southern Cross University in Lismore which is available from 5pm."
The Lismore local government area takes in a wide population of 45,000 people, while the urban areas is home to 25,000 people, Mayor Dowell said.
"The flooding is affecting less than that [urban population]," she said.
Ms Dowell said high winds are the biggest concern at present.
The heavy spout is going to be during the night when people are asleep. By the time most people are going to work it will be easing up a fair bit
"There is a lot of wind damage and a number of trees are knocked down. There are homes with no electricity and some people are without water. This is not good."
Lismore's deputy mayor Simon Clough said the flooding is predicted to reach a metre below the town's flood levy.
"It's pretty quiet and normal for Lismore. Light rain, it's very overcast, low cloud and occasional strong winds, but Lismore is a flood town and I don’t think anyone is panicking."
A major flood warning has also been announced for the Tweed River, with flood peaks unable to be estimated until rain clears from the catchment area.
There are also moderate to major flood warnings for the Clarence Valley, including the Orara River, the Bellinger, Nambucca and Kalang Valleys, the Macleay Valley, the Hastings and Camden Haven (Logans Crossing) Valleys, and the Manning Valley.
Back-to-shool may be delayed
The wet weather is also threatening to interrupt back-to-school plans this week, particularly in the Northern Rivers region, with one school already affected by flooding.
The Pocket Public School, near Brunswick Heads, was isolated by floodwaters and without power on Monday, while Richmond River High School at North Lismore is also likely to be affected by flooding in the next 24 hours, depending on rainfall.
Teachers are due to return to public schools on Tuesday for staff development days, while most students are due to resume classes on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Communities said staff would assess the situation of their schools tomorrow before making decisions about whether students could come in the following day.
"Parents who are unsure about the operational status of a school should contact the school directly; if they need advice on the safety of the route to school they should, in the first instance, listen to emergency service broadcasts or check websites; and/or confirm the operation of school bus services directly with the operator," he said.
Wild weather heads towards Sydney
Meanwhile, Sydneysiders have been warned to prepare for torrential rain and destructive winds expected to hit the city on Monday night as the ex-tropical cyclone slowly moves down the NSW coast.
A severe weather warning has been issued for large swathes of NSW for destructive winds, heavy rain, abnormally high tides and damaging surf, with the north of the state already copping the brunt of the bad weather.
Areas surrounding Mullumbimby, in far northern NSW, were drenched in more than 400 millimetres of rain in the 24 hours to 9am, while Bellingen recorded almost 300 millimetres and Coffs Harbour about 200 millimetres in the same time.
About 2000 people had been isolated by floodwaters in northern NSW by midday on Monday, including about 850 people at Ewingar, while the State Emergency Service rescued 12 people from floodwaters.
Hundreds of travellers arrived at Sydney Airport on Monday to find their flights had been cancelled due to destructive winds. Jetstar, Qantas Link and Virgin Australia cancelled flights to destinations including the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Port Macquarie and Lord Howe Island.
Weatherzone meteorologist Rob Sharpe said ex-tropical cyclone Oswald would slowly move south from Queensland on Monday, battering the mid north coast on Monday before the brunt of the storm was expected to hit Sydney and possibly the Illawarra on Monday night and into Tuesday morning.
"We’re expecting rainfall totals to be between 80 and 150 millimetres in Sydney, so very heavy falls, but the heavy spout is going to be during the night when people are asleep. By the time most people are going to work it will be easing up a fair bit," he said.
"There's also the risk of wind gusts up to 100km/h overnight for the Sydney area.
"Hopefully by the time the morning commute happens we will be back to a few showers, maybe the odd heavy shower."
The low-pressure system originally was expected to pass out to sea close to Sydney in the early hours of Tuesday morning, however the system appeared to be slowing as it travelled down Australia’s east cost and could linger until lunchtime on Tuesday.
The rain and wind will ease throughout Tuesday as the system moves further offshore and into the Tasman Sea, but dangerous surf will continue into Wednesday.
Queensland flood crisis
The same weather system is causing an extraordinary flood crisis in Queensland, as cities and towns across the state go under water.
Dramatic rescues were under way in Bundaberg, where the city’s worst flood on record left dozens of people trapped on rooftops. At least 2000 Bundaberg properties are flooded.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for people in north Bundaberg, and some other low-lying parts of the city.
The communities of Gympie and Maryborough are also flooding, while a major flood crisis is developing in the Lockyer Valley, where 19 lives were lost in the state's 2011 floods.
Brisbane and Ipswich are bracing for flooding expected on Monday night, with further flood peaks expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.
So far, three flood deaths have been confirmed in Queensland.
Mr Sharpe said one place in the Gold Coast hinterland had recorded an incredible 500 millimetres of rain in less than a day.
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued flood warnings for the Tweed, Richmond, Wilsons, Clarence, Bellinger, Hastings, Brunswick, Orara, Macleay and Nambucca rivers in NSW.
The severe weather warning is in place for the Northern Rivers, Northern tablelands, mid north coast, Hunter, Sydney metropolitan, Illawarra and Central Tablelands forecast districts. A severe weather warning also has been issued for damaging winds on Lord Howe Island.
Thousands of households in the Northern Rivers region have been left without electricity. Worst hit is the Byron Shire with up to 2000 houses affected in Broken Head and another 1250 spread across Federal, Upper Wilsons Creek, The Pocket and Tyagarah.
About 1400 other homes are without power around Casino and 900 in Woodburn and Evans Head. About 150 households in Dunoon are also without power.
Holidaymakers should exercise patience
By 2.45pm on Monday, the State Emergency Service had received 1479 requests for assistance in NSW in connection with ex-tropical cyclone Oswald.
About 2000 people were also isolated by floodwaters, including 850 people at Ewingar, 100 people at Main Arm, 480 people at Uki and 13 people at the Emu Creek sour-wheel drive park.
On the mid north coast, 100 people at Buccarumbi were isolated.
There were two storm teams attending to the roof damage at Tweed Heads Children’s Hospital at 2.45pm.
NSW SES Commissioner Murray Kear urged holidaymakers to consider the severe weather when making their travel plans.
"With damaging winds and heavy rain expected in Sydney, Newcastle and the central coast on Monday, holidaymakers should exercise patience, drive to the conditions and never enter flood water," Mr Kear said.
"If you need emergency help in a flood or storm call the NSW SES on 132 500. If your situation is life-threatening call triple-0."
A number of roads are already closed as a result of flooding:
- The Gwydir Highway is closed at Gibraltar Ranges due to fallen trees and a landslip.
- Bangalow Road is closed between Bangalow and Lismore. The road is closed at Binna Burra and south of Bexhill.
- Armidale Road is closed in Ebor through to Nymbodia.
- The Bruxner Highway is closed 70km west of Tenterfield. It has reopened at Holland Street in Goonellabah after wires were down earlier.
- Tweed Valley Way is closed in both directions in the Murwillimbah area.
- The Pacific Highway is closed near Spring Street in South Grafton. There is a diversion via Clarenza, which is suitable for light vehicles and semi-trailers and B-Doubles under 19m and 50 tonnes.
- The Newell Highway is closed 90km north of Moree to Boggabilla (and there is no access to the Newell Highway from Queensland). However, heavy vehicles are getting through.
- The Gwydir Highway is closed 15km east of Moree.
- The Summerland Way is closed 10km south of Casino.
- There is also localised flooding in parts of Sydney and Newcastle that is affecting traffic, so motorists are advised to exercise extreme caution.
- Wakehurst Parkway is closed in both directions in Oxford Falls, in Sydney’s north due to flooding.
- Additionally, heavy holiday traffic has eased in Bulahdelah and Hexham.
There also was heavy holiday traffic the F3 as motorists returned to Sydney after the Australia Day long weekend.
Motorists heading southbound were urged at 4.45pm to allow extra time if travelling between Warnervale and Ourimbah. The travel time from Newcastle to Wahroonga was estimated at 101 minutes at 3pm, while the travel time driving northbound was estimated at 71 minutes.
"Anyone heading back to Sydney is advised to allow additional travel time and to drive to the conditions," a Transport Management Centre spokesperson said. Motorists have been urged to avoid travel if possible.
Two lanes were closed northbound on the F3 at Mooney Mooney Creek Bridge because of an accident involving a truck and a car about 3.30pm, but that has now been cleared and all lanes are now open.
At Sydney Airport on Monday, Mary-Jane Lang, 48, was one of the hundreds of travellers whose flights had been cancelled due to destructive winds.
"We flew all the way to Ballina yesterday afternoon and were turned back to Sydney because of the weather. We were about to start descending when the plane suddenly ascended again," she said.
"The pilot tried a second time and then said ’We’re going back to Sydney’. I had $20 left so I got the train back down to Mittagong to stay with a friend. Then I came back this morning and the flight has just been cancelled.
"We can’t go home. My daughter starts high school tomorrow. What are we supposed to do?"
- with Josephine Tovey, Rachel Olding and Zoe Ferguson
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