Rain-swollen rivers spilled mud-brown waters across swathes of Sydney on Tuesday, swamping homes and roads while forcing thousands to flee.
The authorities have now instructed about 50,000 people to evacuate and another 28,000 to prepare to escape the rising waters in New South Wales, officials said.
Emergency workers carried out 142 flood rescues in New South Wales over 24 hours, they said, with the support of 100 army troops deployed to the state.
Australia has been at the sharp end of climate change, with droughts, deadly bushfires, bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and floods becoming more common and intense as global weather patterns change.
Higher temperatures mean the atmosphere holds more moisture, unleashing more rain.
With much of the ground already sodden, the water rose rapidly in worst-hit areas and was soon lapping around the walls of some homes in the western Sydney suburbs.
“All of a sudden it just came up so quick,” said resident Gordon Lee after parts of his western Sydney suburb of Shanes Park were engulfed overnight.
“We didn’t even have time to take anything, just got our pet dogs and went out to higher ground up the street there,” he told AFP.
Lee said he had retired from farming about 15 years ago when flooding was less frequent.
“I see younger people move in trying to farm here but they are getting a hiding,” he said. “They are losing everything.”
Meteorologists predicted the weather front would move northwards along the east coast after dumping rain on Sydney for four days.
“Sydney is not out of danger, this is not a time to be complacent,” State Emergency Services commissioner Carlene York told a news conference.
Staff at Windsor police station were evacuated as the floods rose, police said.
Much of the flooding has occurred in a major river system downstream of western Sydney’s Warragamba Dam, which has been overspilling large volumes of excess water since Sunday.
The huge concrete dam provides most of the city’s drinking water.
“People on the east coast are doing it really tough at the moment,” said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
“My heart goes out to people who have suffered again and again and again and again, and for many of those communities, they were also impacted by the bushfires,” he told reporters.
“I say to people, stay safe, keep vigilant.”
The rain has eased in some Sydney areas but flood warnings will likely persist for days, warned Jane Golding of the state’s bureau of meteorology.