As major flooding persists in northeastern NSW where 17 council areas have been given national disaster declarations, the state's Minister for Emergency Services Steph Cooke has urged residents in the region and further south to prepare for damaging weather.
"I would implore people to prepare, and that extends to people in Sydney and also to people now on the south coast," Minister Cooke said.
"If you are a primary producer on the south coast, please look to move your stock to higher ground now. You have time to prepare now and we want you to help us help you," she said.
"Have an emergency services kit prepared with your medications, with your important documents, your laptop computers, mobile phones and chargers."
With South Ballina joining the growing list of evacuation orders this morning amidst "devastating signs up north" according to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, Cooke added "we must all prepare ourselves for the possibility that lives have been lost". There are currently 300,000 NSW residents under evacuation orders.
"Unfortunately, things are not going to get much better up there for a little while. While the Wilsons River at Lismore has peaked at 14.37 metres, that river will remain at a major flood level at least until tomorrow," she said.
"As those waters come down, the emergency will continue, we will ensure that our emergency services operations remain up there working around the clock until every single person has been rescued."
Dean Narramore from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said the good news was that no more widespread rain is expected in northern NSW over the coming days, but the sheer amount of water in the system means major flooding will continue through today into tomorrow morning.
"The low pressure system that drove all of that weather moved off the north coast of New South Wales yesterday," Narramore said.
"It has slightly deepened overnight and is now starting to move south to southwest-ward back towards the central coast of New South Wales," he said, clarifying this could be anywhere from the Hunter region to the south coast.
"A severe weather warning is current for heavy rainfall and damaging winds for today and tomorrow for much of this coastline, extending from Newcastle all the way down to around Bega."
He said the bureau was currently expecting moderate flooding on the Hawkesbury River, and moderate to possibly major flooding for the Upper Nepean River.
"We could see six-hourly rainfall totals anywhere from 50 to 150 millimetres with oscillated falls in excess of that and possibly up to 200 millimeters, and that’ll be particularly with thunderstorms," Narramore said.
"Why this is a concern is because catchments and rivers are already wet across much of central and southern parts of NSW, and we're likely to see this kind of rainfall possibly lead to, again, flash and riverine flooding for many of our rivers, creeks and catchments in this part of the world."
Cooke reiterated that people in Sydney and its surrounds have time to prepare.
"We have seen what has unfolded in the north northern parts of this state over the past few days. The time to prepare is now," she said.
"If you are the subject of an evacuation order or a warning in the north, please heed the advice of the emergency services organisations," she added.
"We do not make these decisions lightly. They are based on the good information, the best information that we have available at the time."
The Premier said the disaster declarations from the Federal and State Governments allow for financial support to help communities get back on their feet when flooding subsides.
"Whilst we've certainly seen devastating signs up north, we can all take heart in the courage and the bravery that we have seen in our people – in our frontline volunteers, in our emergency services personnel, but ultimately our people," Premier Perrottet said.
"Particularly in the north, who have gone through a very difficult time over the last few years, whether that’s through bushfires and floods. Here we are again."
Financial supports extended in NSW, QLD
Yesterday the Federal Government announced it had activated financial support for the Northern NSW local government areas (LGAs) of Ballina, Bellingen, Byron, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed, including the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP) of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child who have been affected by floods.
This adds to support in Queensland for eligible residents in the LGAs of Brisbane, Fraser Coast, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Logan, Moreton Bay, Noosa, Redland, Scenic Rim, Somerset, South Burnett, Southern Downs, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Gympie and North Burnett.
The AGDRP is a one-off, non-means tested payment and is available to eligible people in those affected local government areas who have suffered a significant loss, including a severely damaged or destroyed home or serious injury.
Small businesses and farmers in these 26 LGAs will also be able to apply for Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA) if they have experienced a loss of income as a direct result of the flooding, providing for a maximum of 13 weeks payment at the equivalent rate of Jobseeker payments or youth allowance.
In addition for Queensland, which has received 80 per cent of its normal annual rainfall just in the current disaster, joint Federal-State funding will go towards the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) for personal hardship in flood-affected areas. Previously this was only available to communities hit in Gympie and North Burnett, but has today been extended to the flood-affected individuals and families in the Brisbane, Logan and Noosa LGAs.
"Grants of up to $180 per person, to a maximum of $900 for a family of five or more to eligible people in flood affected areas of Brisbane, Logan and Noosa to alleviate personal hardship and distress,” Federal Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience, Bridget McKenzie, said.
"This is the worst flood to hit South East Queensland since the summer of disasters in 2010-11 with the full impacts yet to be completely understood, however, we know thousands of residents in these areas have been affected.
"There have been reports of up to 57,000 residences without power during these floods and some communities may be without power for several days as crews need to wait for waters to recede before they can inspect, clean and repair inundated damaged electricity assets," added Queensland Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Mark Ryan.
After the Insurance Council of Australia's (ICA) announcement yesterday that 15,000 claims had been made from policyholders, up 33 per cent in one day, it has today revealed claims more than doubled over the past 24 hours to 31,000.
One of Australia's largest insurers IAG (ASX: IAG) has today also revealed 6,700 claims had been received across its brands with NRMA accounting for almost a quarter.
"The tragic loss of life and devastation from this disaster is heartbreaking," IAG managing director and CEO Nick Hawkins said.
"Ensuring the safety of residents is our priority and we urge everyone to follow the directions of the emergency services who, once again, are doing an incredible job rescuing people from floodwaters.
"Our dedicated Major Events team is supporting customers with emergency help such as temporary accommodation and ensuring properties are safe and secure. Our teams are assessing properties wherever possible and will move into the flood impacted areas as soon as waters recede."
IAG reports it has a maximum event retention of $95 million. This compares to $75 million for Suncorp (ASX: SUN), which as of yesterday morning had received 5,000 claims.
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