Dozens of towns isolated by flooding in Australian state

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People shelter under umbrellas as they watch the flooded Hawkesbury River in Windsor, northwest of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Monday, March 22, 2021. Hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters that have isolated dozens of towns in Australia's most populous state New South Wales and forced thousands to evacuate their homes as record rain continues. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

CANBERRA – Hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters that have isolated dozens of towns in Australia’s most populous state New South Wales and forced thousands to evacuate their homes as record rain continues to inundate the country’s east coast.

Around 18,000 people had been evacuated from flooding in New South Wales by Monday and emergency services feared up to 54,000 people could be displaced with rain forecast to continue until Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament that 35 communities in northern New South Wales had been isolated and emergency services had conducted more than 700 flood rescues.

“We are grateful at this point that no lives have been lost so far,” Morrison said. “But weakened foundations for buildings, for roads and trees, they all create risk, as do downed power lines and rising water levels.”

A year ago, vast swathes of New South Wales had been charred by unprecedented wildfires following years of drought that gripped most of the state.

Some of the same areas were now being by inundated by one-in-50-year and one-in-100-year rain events.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said up to 38 parts of the state had been declared natural disaster areas.

"I don’t know any time in our state’s history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic,” Berejiklian told reporters. “So, they are challenging times for New South Wales.”