Downpour douses Aussie bush fires but raises flood danger

Floodwater gushing over a road in Australia's north-eastern Queensland state yesterday. While parched lands received a welcome drenching, the storms and heavy rain across the country's east coast over the weekend saw boulders falling on parked cars,
Floodwater gushing over a road in Australia’s north-eastern Queensland state on Feb 10, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Dams across New South Wales state have been replenished by four days of heavy rainfall in Sydney and its surrounding areas. Warragamba Dam (above) saw its water level rise by 20 percentage points in one week.
Dams across New South Wales state have been replenished by four days of heavy rainfall in Sydney and its surrounding areas. Warragamba Dam (above) saw its water level rise by 20 percentage points in one week.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Residents of Sydney's Collaroy suburb inspecting their homes for damage after storms uprooted trees and resulted in houses being coated in ocean foam.
Residents of Sydney’s Collaroy suburb inspecting their homes for damage after storms uprooted trees and resulted in houses being coated in ocean foam.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Dam levels get a boost but storms cause damage, with forecasts of more wild weather

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY • A four-day downpour across Australia's east coast has brought relief after months of devastating bush fires and years of drought, but also widespread storm damage and forecasts of more wild weather to come.

The weekend drenching represented the biggest sustained run of rainfall in Sydney and its surrounding areas for 30 years, dousing some bush fires and replenishing depleted dams across New South Wales (NSW), the most populous state.

With the wet weather, Australia's months-long bush fire crisis is likely to be over within days, officials said yesterday.

Some rural areas received more rain in recent days than they had in the entire past year - a startling and swift turnaround from the bush fires that have killed 33 people and ravaged large parts of the east coast.

"It's amazing what the smell of the rain can do to people's spirits," Mr Ben Shields, mayor of the inland city of Dubbo, told Reuters. Like many other rural towns, Dubbo has been beset by dust storms and subjected to water restrictions on the back of a three-year drought.

Mr James Jackson, a sheep and cattle farmer in drought-hit Guyra district some 500km north of Sydney, said the region was starting to turn green again.

"This one event won't replenish the whole soil moisture profile. We'll need a couple of these, but this is certainly a good start for those people who got it," said Mr Jackson, who is also president of industry body NSW Farmers. "I have two-year-old sheep that are seeing green grass for the first time."

Bush fire warning signs were almost swamped by floods in several areas as the weekend rainfall cut power to tens of thousands of homes, caused travel chaos in Sydney and closed scores of schools for the start of the week.

Almost 400mm of rain fell in the Sydney area and surrounding regions. The Warragamba Dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney's water, jumped from about 40 per cent to above 60 per cent full in just over a week, the state's water authority said, shoring up water supplies for the city of five million.

One man was missing after his car was swept off a road in Sydney's north, and hundreds were rescued from flood waters across the state.

Emergency services scrambled to respond to calls for assistance as strong winds uprooted trees, ocean foam coated seaside homes and boulders fell on parked cars.

  • 400mm Volume of rain that fell in the Sydney area and surrounding regions. The Warragamba Dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney's water, jumped from about 40 per cent to above 60 per cent full in just over a week, shoring up water supplies for the city of five million.

Almost 90,000 homes remained without power yesterday, with utility providers warning it could take days for electricity to be restored in some areas.

The Insurance Council of Australia said insurers had received an estimated A$45 million (S$41.8 million) in claims by early yesterday. That figure is expected to rise as the full extent of the damage becomes clear.

Parts of northern and inland NSW, along with southern Queensland, have suffered from drought since 2016, severely reducing river and dam levels while creating the tinder-dry conditions that fuelled this season's deadly bush fires.

The weekend rain extinguished some of the worst bush fires in NSW, including the Gospers Mountain mega fire in the Blue Mountains and the Currowan blaze on the south coast. Each burned for months, together razing more than one million ha of bushland and destroying hundreds of homes.

 
 

In contrast, the authorities said that flood evacuation warnings have now been ordered for parts of the Conjola region, where deadly fires razed dozens of homes on New Year's Eve. Thunderstorms are forecast for NSW and neighbouring Victoria state in coming days.

The downpour has put some much-needed moisture into parched land months out from the all-important wheat-planting season, which is crucial to the fortunes of Australia's biggest crop.

Agribusiness economist Phin Ziebell from the National Australia Bank said the rain would also encourage farmers in the north-eastern state of Queensland to rebuild their stock numbers now that they had water and feed.

"Some of the driest parts of Queensland have received a drenching, which will help pasture growth," he said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Downpour douses Aussie bush fires but raises flood danger'. Print Edition | Subscribe