MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Thousands of residents were ordered on Sunday (July 3) to evacuate south-west Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, with torrential rain and damaging winds pounding the east coast and threatening floods in areas that were hammered in March.

The weather bureau warned of heavy rainfall potentially leading to flash floods and landslides along the east coast region from Newcastle to Bateman’s Bay in New South Wales (NSW) state, with rain expected to intensify over the next two days.

“We are now facing dangers on multiple fronts – flash flooding, riverine flooding and coastal erosion,” NSW Minister for Flood Recovery, Emergency Services and Resilience Stephanie Cooke said in a televised media briefing.

She urged people to reconsider holiday travel, with the rough weather having hit at the beginning of school holidays.

“This is a life-threatening emergency situation,” Ms Cooke said.

More than 200mm of rain has fallen over many areas, with some hit by as much as 350mm, the Bureau of Meteorology said, warning of flood risks along the Nepean River.

The heavy rain caused Sydney’s main dam to spill overnight, the water authorities said, adding that modelling showed the spill would be comparable to a major spill in March 2021 at the Warragamba Dam.

“There is no room for the water to remain in the dams. They are starting to spill. The rivers are flowing very fast and very dangerous. And then we have the risk of flash flooding, depending on where the rains are,” State Emergency Service commissioner Carlene York said.

In the past day, 29 people have been rescued from floodwaters, including one who was hanging on to a pole for an hour as workers struggled to reach them.

The Australian government has provided the state with 100 troops who are helping with sandbagging and two helicopters to aid with any rescues, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Sky News.