Three killed after wild weather lashes Sydney, Australia's east coast

SYDNEY (AFP/REUTERS) - Cyclone-strength winds, huge seas, torrential rain and flash flooding battered Australia's east coast and its biggest city Sydney on Tuesday, killing three as trees felled and thousands of homes were without power.

An elderly woman and two elderly men were reported to have died in Dungog in western New South Wales, Australian media reported.

The area was suffering its second day of gale force winds and torrential rain, with the Bureau of Meteorology reporting 119 milimetres -- nearly a month's worth of rain -- falling in Sydney in 24 hours.

Schools were shut and huge sea swells hampered cruise ship movements. Rail links to the north and south of Sydney were cut and many roads in the city were flooded.

State Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Steven Pearce said the organisation had dealt with 3,000 calls for help and carried out 10 flood rescues.

"Extremely busy is an understatement," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We've haven't seen this sort of weather pattern, this east coast low or one as severe as this in years. The consistent gale force winds... are actually cyclonic in some areas with gusts up to 135 kilometres (84 miles) per hour."

No deaths have been reported although the broadcaster said one person was missing near Newcastle, 150 kilometres north of Sydney, after floodwaters swept through a campground, washing away campervans and caravans.

In Sydney, flights were delayed and a cruise ship attempting to enter the harbour was unable to do so.

The Sydney Harbour pilot could not board the Carnival Spirit due to massive swells, with the vessel stuck in the open ocean with hundreds of passengers on board.

The Port Authority of NSW said the harbour had been closed for commercial shipping, possibly for 48 hours. Ferries across Sydney were cancelled or had limited services.

More than 40 schools were closed while AusGrid said more than 180,000 homes and businesses were without power across Sydney and the Central Coast area to the city's north.

Numerous roads were also closed due to flooding, fallen trees and downed power lines.

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