A ship stranded off the coast of Sydney in treacherous waters for the past three days has been rescued, hours before a possible disaster, as the total number of evacuees from the floods that engulfed the city reached 85,000.
Officials say the Portland Bay, a cargo ship, was in danger of collapsing on the cliffs that could have led to an “environmental disaster,” but was finally rescued on Wednesday and towed into port.
“This ship came within two hours of the ship sinking, an outcome that would have put lives at risk and threatens environmental disaster,” Transportation Secretary Catherine King said in a statement.
Meanwhile, new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New South Wales Premier Dominic Beirut visited the flood-ravaged parts of the state where the worst-hit Hunter region is now underwater.
A one-time emergency cash payment of A$1,000 (£571) for those affected by the floods has been announced.
The number of people forced to leave their homes in Sydney and nearby areas due to severe flooding has reached 85,000, up 35,000 from Tuesday, as authorities continue rescue operations.
While the situation is starting to ease a bit as the wild storm system that has devastated Australia’s largest city kicked off four days of torrential rain, according to the latest satellite images, authorities say the situation “remains grave”.
Rivers are still above danger levels, and authorities have warned that more people may be asked to leave their homes in the coming days. Earlier, officials said those with the option to leave should do so without waiting for an evacuation order.
Frustration with the government’s response and frequent floods forcing people to leave and rebuild their homes also surfaced during the Prime Minister’s visit to an emergency volunteer relief shelter.
“Everyone is talking about solving the same problem…nothing happened,” a local resident told Albanese in televised photos. “The locals are always ready, the government is not.”
This is the third episode of floods in Australia since the start of 2022. The weather on the east coast of Australia, usually associated with greater rainfall, has been dominated by La Nina for two years in a row.
However, experts say climate change also has a role and has intensified in the past few years.
“What we do know is that Australia has always been prone to floods and bushfires, but we know that science has told us that if we continue to not take action globally on climate change, … extreme weather events will be more often and more intense,” Mr. Albanese said during his visit. .
“What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is that it’s over,” he added.
Authorities say the flooding could continue until early next week. Rainfall in some parts of New South Wales has averaged 700 mm (28 in) since Saturday.
Additional reporting by agencies