SYDNEY: The month-long bushfire crisis in Australia is likely to be over in days, officials said Monday as heavy rainfall extinguished some major blazes and forecast hundreds more as downpours swept south.
Torrential rainy days have triggered flash flooding in New South Wales and Queensland, dampening one-time raging fires that volunteers have been fighting for months in vain.
Sydney endured its wettest 20-year stretch following several days of heavy rainfall that culminated in chaotic scenes across the region.
The Meteorology Bureau said that over the past four days, 391.6 mm of rain fell in Sydney — the highest total in such a time since 414.2 mm was recorded in February 1990.
The deluge has extinguished many large bushfires, including a “mega-blaze” that burned down 500,000 hectares north of Sydney, and a similar-sized fire to the south of the city, providing relief to residents and firefighters.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service spokesperson James Morris said Monday about 30 fires were still burning but they were predicted to be extinguished soon as the rain falls south in the coming days.
“By the end of the week it’s likely they will be out,” he told media sources.
Drought-stricken areas across the eastern part of the country have received welcome downpours, but more frequent and extensive rainfall will be required to counter a dry spell that lasts for years.
The stormy weather brought days of chaos and destruction, with one man missing after his car was washed off a road in north Sydney and hundreds more saved across the state from floodwaters.
Police said a search for the missing man was underway on Monday but no sign of him or his vehicle was found.
Many rivers were overflowing, including the Parramatta River in the west of Sydney, while residents living near Narrabeen Lagoon in the north of the city were forced to evacuate late Sunday in fear of flooding their homes.
Emergency services scrambled as strong winds rooted trees, ocean foam-coated seaside homes and boulders dropped on parked cars to respond to calls for assistance.
Nearly 90,000 homes were left without power Monday, with utility providers warning that it could take days to restore electricity in some areas.
Australia’s Insurance Council said insurers had early Monday issued an estimated Aus$45 million ($30 million) in claims, with that number expected to rise as the full extent of the damage becomes evident.