Wild weather continues with flood warnings for Queensland's south-east and northern NSW

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Authorities receive hundreds of calls for help as people urged to brace for heavy rain and gales

A man loads sandbags into his car on the Gold Coast on Sunday. Heavy rainfall, high winds and flooding is forecasted for south-east Queensland and into northern NSW.
A man loads sandbags into his car on the Gold Coast on Sunday. Heavy rainfall, high winds and king tides are lashing south-east Queensland and northern NSW. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP
A man loads sandbags into his car on the Gold Coast on Sunday. Heavy rainfall, high winds and king tides are lashing south-east Queensland and northern NSW. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP
Australian Associated Press

First published on Sat 12 Dec 2020 17.12 EST

Heavy rain across south-east Queensland and the north of New South Wales has prompted flash flooding warnings as authorities answer hundreds of calls for help and warn of more bad weather to come.

Some areas in the Gold Coast and northern NSW border region have recorded more than 350mm of rain since Saturday, with warnings there was more to come.

Streets in Coffs Harbour and Tumbulgum flooded. Four people were rescued from flood waters in NSW overnight and about 20 caravaners were moved to higher ground.

Emergency services received more than 1,200 calls for assistance for roof damage and leaks, inundation and fallen trees.

“The rains are here and they are coming significantly and in a heavy severe way ... similar to a category one cyclone event,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services minister, Mark Ryan, told reporters on Sunday.

“This will be a significant event over the next 24 hours. We’ve got crews on standby ready to respond.”

Authorities warn more heavy rain, damaging winds and king tides are likely from Fraser Island to Port Macquarie throughout the evening.

“We’ve seen significant rain over the last 24 hours, much of which has soaked in,” said the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner, Greg Leach.

“The message now is that the soils are damp and any rainfall we get is likely to run and we’re likely to see that risk of flash flooding and flooding in low-lying areas.”

Motorists have been told to stay off the roads and not to attempt to drive into any flood waters.

The Bureau of Meteorology has also issued a flood warning for south-east Queensland, with inundation possible in coastal and low-lying areas including the Brisbane River.

In NSW, flooding is likely in the northern rivers and mid-north coast areas. Further heavy rainfall up 300mm is possible.

“This is a dynamic weather system and you should always expect the unexpected,” said a BoM hydrologist, Justin Robertson.

A red flag and a no swimming sign are seen at Southport beach on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
A red flag and a no swimming sign are seen on the beach at Southport on the Gold Coast on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Communities in flood-prone areas spent the day sandbagging low-lying areas and preparing properties. The warnings are likely to last into Monday.

“We are really appealing to residents in the mid-north coast and northern rivers to stay vigilant, monitor your local conditions and local forecasts and stay out of flood waters,” said the NSW State Emergency Service assistant commissioner Dean Storey.

Rough seas and wild surf are also forecast, with waves of more than 5 metres tipped from early Monday.

All Gold Coast beaches have been closed along with the majority of Sunshine Coast beaches.

Upper Springbrook in the Gold Coast hinterland recorded 475mm of rain overnight and Couchy Creek, near the Queensland and NSW border, had received 365mm of rain since 9am on Saturday, with Numinbah recording 348mm and Chillingham 306mm.

Flood warnings have been issued for the Tweed, Wilson, Bellinger and Brunswick rivers and Marshalls Creek in NSW and the Logan and Albert rivers in Queensland.

Rough seas and wild surf were forecast north from Ballina, with waves of more than 5 metres tipped from early Monday.

“The combination of damaging surf and abnormally high tides may lead to significant beach erosion north from about Ballina,” the BoM warned.

Jesse Brough of Helensvale
Jesse Brough loads sandbags into his ute on the Gold Coast on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Flood warnings are also in place for Western Australia’s De Grey River catchment after a gusty tropical low dumped heavy rain from the Pilbara to the border with South Australia.

The weather system crossed the coast near Port Hedland on Friday, bringing heavy rain as it moved south-east towards the Goldfields.

Warnings have also been issued for the town of Warburton, near the South Australia border, the Sandy Desert and the salt lakes district rivers.

In Queensland the heavy rain helped firefighters gain the upper hand against a bushfire that has destroyed almost half of world heritage-listed Fraser Island.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said on Sunday the blaze was now contained and it was handing management back to the Parks and Wildlife Service.

“But our crews will remain on the ground patrolling to ensure the community remain safe,” a spokesman said via Facebook on Sunday.

The fire destroyed more than 80,000 hectares of vegetation since it was sparked by an illegal campfire on 14 October.

Water bombers dumped almost 3m litres of water and fire-retardant gel on the blaze during the nine-week battle.

But loose soil on the world’s largest sand island caused the liquid to drain away quickly in the inaccessible, bush-covered dunes where the fire burned on multiple fronts.

One front was near the Kingfisher Bay Resort on the west side of the island, causing guests and staff to be evacuated.

On the eastern side of the island, the fire came dangerously close to properties in Happy Valley and Cathedrals but was beaten back.

QFES took over management of the fire from the national park’s ranger service early in December. It immediately ordered tourists to stay away from the island, closing access to all people except residents and essential workers.

The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has ordered a review of the Department of Environment and QFES emergency response to the blaze.