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NSW wild weather: Emergency flood alerts sent to Hunter residents as 'cyclonic' conditions worsen

Authorities have sent emergency alerts to tens of thousands of people in NSW’s Hunter region as forecasters warn wild weather will worsen after earlier claiming three lives.

Conditions described as “cyclonic” have wrought havoc on the Hunter, Sydney, Central Coast and Illawarra regions, with rescue crews called to more than 1,000 storm-related incidents and more than 200,000 properties losing power.

Hunter flood alerts
A ute submerged in floodwaters at Stroud. (Image: ABC/Supplied: Davina Lathwell)

Three elderly residents were found dead in the town of Dungog, north of Newcastle, but authorities said the circumstances were still being investigated.

Locals said several homes had been washed away, and a woman and two children were rescued from a house as it was washed down a street in nearby Greta.

The State Emergency Service (SES) sent emergency alerts to more than 100,000 mobile phones in the Hunter this afternoon.

It warned of “rapid rises and high velocity flash flood water in local creeks, watercourses and urban areas” in Newcastle and surrounding areas.

Newcastle Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the city looked like it had been in a disaster movie.

She said roads were under water, trees had been blown down and roofs had been ripped from buildings.

“We’re actually bracing for worse to come,” she told 7.30.

“Overnight, we are bracing for potentially more flooding in Newcastle and the Hunter … so people are being urged to stay at home and to stay on high ground where it’s safe,” she said.

In the eight hours to 5:00pm, Maitland received 274 millimetres of rain, Seaham received 152 millimetres and Tocal received 137 millimetres.

SES spokesman Michael Langley said the flash flooding threat was serious.

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“We don’t issue these emergency alert notifications without a lot of thought and a lot of input from the Bureau of Meteorology, so it’s a real issue,” he said.

“We can already confirm there has already been some loss of life today regarding this flash flooding so take it seriously – don’t panic, but be alert.”

Weatherzone meteorologist Kim Westcott told 1233 ABC Newcastle the wind should calm down by about 11:00pm.

“By sunrise tomorrow, it will become really light.”

An evacuation centre was set up at Dungog High School following reports at least 20 homes had been inundated, but it has since been closed.

However, evacuation centres have been opened at the Senior Citizens Centre in East Maitland and the Shamrock Multipurpose Centre at Ashton Field.

NSW Police said residents who evacuated their homes should take important documents and photos, spare clothing and medication.

Those using the evacuation centres were asked to bring blankets or sleeping bags, pillows and sleeping mats.

Dozens of schools in the Hunter area have been closed until at least Thursday.

Local police commander Jeff Loy said the three deaths occurred in different locations in Dungog.

“Two males and one female all perished in different circumstances,” he said.

“The police are investigating the cause of those deaths.

“I understand there has been footage also of a house going down the river. These people are not related to any of those houses that have been taken off their piers,” he said.

One talkback caller, David, told 1233 ABC Newcastle he was in the town visiting family but got out before it was cut off this afternoon.

“I expect there is 50 to 60 people whose houses have flooded,” he said.

“There were people sitting on their roofs.

“[Some people] have nothing left – they don’t have a wallet, they don’t have anything. They got out within minutes, these people.

“Water’s up to their ceilings, people were swimming to try and get up on their roof.

“There are animals floating around all over the place.”

He said the local timber mill had been “smashed”, which would have lasting repercussions for the local economy.

Premier Mike Baird said the loss of three residents was a tragedy.

“It’s hard to imagine that they were just going about their lives a short time ago,” Mr Baird told 1233 ABC Newcastle.

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“Our thoughts and prayers are with their family and friends.”

He said a state-of-emergency declaration was “under consideration”.

“There is an expectation as the cell moves south from the Hunter down towards Sydney that there could be an increase in winds,” he said.

“At the moment winds are averaging … peaks of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

“That could increase between now and midnight as these cells come together.”

Earlier, he encouraged people to leave work early to avoid being caught in the worsening weather.

“We are calling for bosses to be flexible, people to make arrangements in an orderly way to start to head home as soon as you possibly can.”

The weather caused major transport disruptions, including cancellations and delays to train, bus and ferry services.

Transport authorities urged people to avoid all non-essential travel, both by car and public transport, and check timetables for updated information.

More than 100 sets of traffic lights were blacked out and some major road networks were affected by flooding.

A limited rail service has been operating from Sydney’s Central Station to the central coast.

The Illawarra line was also affected, with buses replacing trains through to Kiama.

All Newcastle bus services stopped running running at 7:00pm because of the forecast dangerous conditions.

Sydney Airport advised passengers to check with airlines for information about delayed and cancelled flights.

Electricity distributor Ausgrid said there were more than 4,500 reports of hazards, such as fallen wires, across its network.

Crews were responding to thousands of urgent incidents and restoring power to more than 200,000 properties would take several days, he said.

“For those customers that are in more inaccessible areas [it will take until] towards the end of the week or even more,” he said.

“The problem is in areas, for example, around Maitland where we are being advised we haven’t seen the peak of floodwaters, so crews aren’t able to get into the area to make their assessment.”

Fire and Rescue NSW said it had been called to more than 1,200 storm-related jobs since 6:00am, including 12 building collapses.

The organisation has deployed extra resources to Newcastle and the Hunter area.

This article originally appeared online at the ABC.