Three dead, houses destroyed and more at risk as king tide, wild weather lash Australia's east coast
At least three people are dead, several houses have been destroyed and more are at risk as a storm hammers eastern Australia.
Seven homes at Collaroy in northern Sydney were "gone" and a beachfront block of units was under threat from severe erosion after a king tide that caused major damage to coastal areas in Sydney on Monday night.
It was believed houses could be damaged further in additional tides on Tuesday.
On Monday night, Dr Mitchell Harley, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, said homes in Collaroy were breaking apart, and the situation was "very serious".
"Some houses are starting to break up," he said.
"It's eroded a further five or so metres and there's a very huge concern that these houses won't survive the night. They're very much teetering on the edge.
"There's large cracks being heard as the buildings are starting to break away."
Dr Harley said the tide was crashing and creating splashes "that are going higher than two-storey buildings" as police kept sightseers away.
The erosion is the latest damage from huge storms and wild seas that have battered NSW since the weekend, claiming three lives and leaving one man missing.
A search will begin at first light on Tuesday for the man, who disappeared in rough waters off Bondi beach on Monday afternoon.
Surf lifesavers and police late on Monday searched for the swimmer missing in wild waves at Bondi. He was last seen jumping into the water at 2:30pm from rocks at the southern end of the beach that had been closed due to the conditions.
NSW Police suspended the search at 5.30pm but said it would resume again at first light on Tuesday.
It came after the bodies of three men were found submerged in floodwaters at Leppington in Sydney's south-west, Bowral in the Southern Highlands and in the ACT.
Zaza Silk, whose swimming pool was left lying on the beach after erosion at Collaroy, told Network Ten's current affairs programme The Project she was devastated.
Silk moved into the beachfront home three years ago using an inheritance from her mother, and kept an urn of her mother's ashes in the yard, which was also the resting place for her recently-departed dog.
As rough seas moved in, she watched as the yard was washed away, in a situation she says the local council could have stopped.
"There was a big crack in the ground and then that started going beneath us, and slowly the sea encroached upon our property," Silk said.
"The council have known about this for a long time, and they should've put a wall up before then. They've known that the land there is unstable ... this could have been avoided."
While the main storm had moved off to the southeast of the coast, Rob Sharpe, a meteorologist with Weatherzone, said Sydney's high tide was originally forecast to be 2.05 metres, but the king tide would be larger.
"With the combination of damaging surf and the king tide, we're likely to see further beach erosion tonight," he said.
A damaging surf warning remained in place for Tuesday, with conditions expected to gradually ease each day.
"We're still going to see very large surf for a few days. It will be backing off each day, so it will get a little bit smaller, but it's still going to be very large tomorrow [with] very dangerous conditions on the beaches," Sharpe said.
"The water is also very polluted due to the run-off from all the rain, so not good conditions to go into the water."
There had been multiple reports of swimmers in trouble in the huge surf.
Ambulances went to Blackwoods Beach and Shelly Beach at Cronulla after calls to emergency services about people in distress in the water.
One person was pulled from the water at Shelly Beach by a surfer and surf lifesavers.
The person had minor injuries.
New South Wales Ambulance staff said paramedics treated one patient, who was assessed on scene and did not need to be taken to hospital.
Another person who was in the water did not need to be treated.
There was a further report of four bodyboarders in trouble at nearby Malabar.
The Westpac helicopter, which had been at Bondi where it was searching for a man who disappeared off rocks, had flown to the area to assist in the rescue.
Rescue helicopters had been doing multiple search and rescue missions throughout the day.
TENS OF MILLIONS IN DAMAGE
Insurance companies have received more than A$38 million (NZ$40.3m) in initial claims over damage caused by the wild weather, declaring it a "catastrophe" event.
So far, customers in New South Wales and Queensland have made 11,150 insurance claims over damage caused by the heavy rainfall, storms and flooding, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said on Monday.
Insurers said it was too early to say what the full cost of the extreme weather would be, as more claims would be made in the coming days.
The body of a man had been found in Leppington, in Sydney's southwest.
"A car was washed off the causeway at Leppington," Camden Local Area Command crime manager Jayne Doherty said.
"We have found a car and police divers are now searching the water."
A second body was recovered after his car was swept away by floods in the NSW Southern Highlands.
The man's body was found submerged in Bowral at 9.30am on Monday.
And a 37-year-old Canberra man has died after his car was caught in floodwaters near the Cotter Dam.
Police found the body of the man from Kambah about 4.30pm on Sunday but could only retrieve it on Monday morning.
Police saw the man's vehicle after they were called out to a separate incident involving two men who had tried to, but realised they couldn't, cross the swollen river.
While emergency workers were trying to work out how to rescue the man, his four-wheel-drive was swept away by the floodwaters and flipped over.
His body was spotted shortly later on an island in the middle of the river.
"The floodwaters yesterday ... were extremely strong, savage, with a lot of debris, large logs coming down the river," Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Policing Sergeant Harry Hains told reporters in Canberra.
"The force was enough to flip a 2-tonne ute."
PLEA FROM FRUSTRATED POLICE
New South Wales' Acting Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart said police were at a loss as to what more could be said and done to get the message across: don't enter floodwaters.
It was a tragedy that lives had been lost, he said. The deaths showed just how dangerous flood waters were.
"'What do we have to say to get the message across?
"Emergency service personnel this morning have had the devastating task of retrieving the bodies of the men.
"Floodwaters are deadly – we can't put it any other way," he said.
He said it was often hard to tell if floodwaters were fast moving. He has urged everyone to talk to their husband, wife, partner, sons and daughters about the dangers of entering floodwaters.
With about 68.4mm in the past day, Sydney has had just over 226.2mm of rain since Friday.
That's easily more than a typical June for the city, which is just under 132mm, and far more than for the previous two months.
Sydney had 162.2mm in April and May, with last month alone the fifth driest May on record with just 7.2mm at Observatory Hill, the Bureau of Meteorology says.
Twelve public schools in NSW are closed because of road closures and flooding.
The light rail between Central and Lilyfield is also closed due to branches falling on overhead wires.
The severe weather also appeared to have been to blame for Sunday evening's nationwide outage of websites and online services.
- Sydney Morning Herald