There’s some good news for NSW residents in flood-ravaged areas, but the state Premier warns there’s a hidden danger lurking below the surface.
Most of the river systems, apart from in the Grafton area, have peaked, but the floodwaters remain a dangerous place with strong undercurrents threatening to wreak havoc.
“The currents are very strong, the flows are very strong, and the unpredictable flows will continue to occur in communities which haven’t seen this amount of rainfall for up 100 years,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
She said the state was not expected to experience any adverse weather conditions for at least another six or seven days.
Grafton residents remain on alert as well as some areas in northwest NSW that could be impacted by what’s happening with the weather conditions in Queensland.
“Complacency is a concern for us. We need to make sure that everybody stays out of floodwaters,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.
“Clearly, our main area of concern is around the Grafton community, but there are very strong flows occurring across all the state.”
The Premier said 3000 people had been able to return to their homes but 20,000 remain evacuated and tens of thousands are on evacuation watch as mammoth clean-up efforts begin, driven by Resilience NSW.
“We are hoping by the end of the day that number will reduce as well,” she said.
“We appreciate it will be a very challenging time for people today and tomorrow as they go back to their homes and their properties.”
NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York confirmed six evacuation orders had been lifted, including in Kempsey where residents could finally return home.
But Ms York also echoed the Premier’s warning, urging people to take extra care.
“I would caution people against complacency. The rivers are still, in a number of areas, at moderate to major flooding,” she said.
“There’s a lot of debris and high risk of danger around those fast-flowing rivers.”
The sun beamed down in parts of NSW on Wednesday after days of torrential rain, but flood dangers remain and residents have been told to stay vigilant.
Two weather systems that threatened to dump more rain on the state appear to have moved through, and no major rainfall is forecast for the next week.
“The weather system that‘s been generating that torrential rainfall has been pushed out into the Pacific Ocean, and we’re looking at quite a few days of no rain, no significant rain and for most of NSW,” Bureau of Meteorology’s Jane Golding explained on Wednesday.
NSW residents were warned of being lulled into a false sense of security amid the newly blue skies, and officials strongly urged people not to enter floodwater that could contain debris and harmful contamination.
There are dozens of flood warnings still in place, particularly for the Wollombi Brook, Hawkesbury, Nepean, Colo, Mehi and Macintyre rivers.
A strong wind warning has been issued for the Illawarra, Batemans and Eden coasts.
The Hawkesbury River rose overnight and major flooding will continue on Thursday and Friday at North Richmond and Windsor as the Warragamba Dam continues to spill over.
Two people have also died, one in NSW and one in Queensland, after their vehicles were retrieved from floodwaters.
Their bodies were found inside.
“All of us were very saddened by the tragic loss of life yesterday,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Please stay out of floodwaters. Just because you may have heard your local river has peaked or that the worst of the rising waters may have ceased, the currents underneath the surface are very strong.”