Australia: Death toll hits 20 as flood disaster hits Sydney

Australia’s fortnight’s flood crisis continues as heavy rain and damaging winds batter the east coast. Parts of Sydney, the country’s largest city, have already been submerged and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes.

The worst affected areas are mainly the working-class suburbs in the south-west of the city, where 11 evacuation orders were issued yesterday afternoon and overnight, affecting more than 60,000 people. Evacuation centers have been set up in Canley Vale and Menai.

SES rescue team on a flooded thoroughfare in Chipping Norton, south-west Sydney. (Facebook/NSW SES Liverpool)

There are currently minor to major flood warnings in eastern New South Wales (NSW) from Queensland to the Victorian border.

Within 24 hours to 9am, Sydney, the Hunter and the South Coast received massive rain of 50 to 150 millimeters, and similar rainfall is expected for Sydney and the South Coast today.

In the 24 hours to 6:30 a.m. today, the State Emergency Service (SES) performed 100 flood rescues and responded to 2,400 calls for help.

Statewide, up to 80,000 people are under evacuation orders or “high alert” warnings. As has been the case throughout the crisis, many of these orders were issued very late, often after heavy rains had already made escape routes unsafe or impassable.

There are major floods in parts of the Georges, Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers, with the latter two already exceeding the heights reached during the March 2021 floods.

Already parts of Camden, on the southwestern outskirts of Sydney, are completely flooded. Flood warnings are in place for all roads in the Sydney metropolitan area.

Several landslides have occurred in Emu Heights, Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

The bodies of a man and a woman were found late this morning in western Sydney. Emergency crews had searched the area for a 67-year-old woman and her 34-year-old son after her car was found in a storm drain at 4.30pm yesterday.

Across New South Wales, at least seven people have died in the floods, while 13 are confirmed dead in Queensland.

More than a week after the town of Lismore in northern New South Wales was devastated, thousands of people in the area remain without electricity, running water, telephones and internet service. Many roads are still impassable, limiting access to food, fuel and medical care.

The lack of internet and mobile phones has also suppressed online banking and payment systems, forcing entire regions to operate cash-only.

Two Byron Bay chefs spontaneously set up a volunteer effort that prepared and delivered 60,000 meals to flood victims, some of whom had gone without food for four days. They told the Guardian they feared that, as emergency services slowly began to arrive in the area, there was still no sign of food relief.

Pip Sumbak said: ‘Nobody told us they were taking care of that, food-wise. No official government service is offered.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet this morning acknowledged that people trapped in the floods felt ‘isolated and abandoned’ and noted that ‘if neighbors hadn’t gotten into boats , I think the death toll would have been much higher.”

While Perrottet made vague promises to “consider better planning and more flood mitigation”, he continued to call the floods an “unforeseen and abnormal disaster”. All of this is meant to cover up government culpability and create the conditions for nothing to be done to improve mitigations and preparedness for future disasters.

About 800 people are in emergency accommodation in the Lismore area and 56,000 flood-damaged homes have yet to be assessed for safety. Out of around 5,600 buildings already checked by SES teams, some 2,500 turned out to be uninhabitable.

In Queensland, where more than 15,000 homes have been flooded in Brisbane alone, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the state’s Labor Premier Anna Palaszczuk jointly announced a $558.50 financial relief package on Saturday. million, aimed at farmers, small businesses, sports clubs and local councils.

No further government assistance to individuals has been announced, beyond the woefully inadequate one-time payment of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child announced by Morrison last week.

As cleanup finally begins in the city, after being delayed due to continued heavy rains, more details have emerged about the failure of state and federal governments to prepare for catastrophic flooding.

While the federal liberal-national government created a $4 billion emergency relief fund in 2019, most requests for funding for flood mitigation projects by states and territories have been denied. The fund was structured, with the support of the Labor Party, to allocate only $50 million each year to such projects.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘7.30’ program, Queensland, the nation’s worst-hit state, has qualified its 2020 request for a $14 million infrastructure network upgrade as a ‘priority’ flood warning, but the project was not funded, while others not considered urgent were.

The Australian Defense Force (ADF) response to the crisis in and around Lismore has drawn heavy criticism.

Last Monday, as hundreds of residents clung to their roofs, desperate for help, the ADF said the weather was too dangerous for its planes to operate.

As a result, the local population was left almost entirely to their own resources, and the rescue effort was left to the heroic and selfless acts of ordinary people.

Major General David Thomae, who coordinated the ADF’s response to the floods, was forced to apologize this morning, saying: “I’m so sorry for all those people who felt they weren’t supported and I completely sympathize with their plight. ”

Now, more than a week after the floods, the area has been overrun by some 1,800 troops who, according to some reports, are slowing recovery efforts due to their lack of knowledge of the area.

On Channel 7’s ‘Sunrise’ this morning, Federal Defense Minister Peter Dutton refused to apologize for leaving thousands of people waiting for a neighbor to show up in a dinghy in the absence of any official rescue effort. Dutton said it was a great example of the ‘Australian spirit’ and said he would not ‘criticize the ADF’.

The fact that the military is now deployed in response to almost all disasters is the result of decades of cuts to civilian emergency services. The ADF, with its ever-increasing budget, is now the only force available.

It is also linked to the campaign to normalize the presence of soldiers in Australian towns and villages amid widespread opposition to the entire political establishment. Troops were deployed during the 2019-2020 bushfires as well as working-class suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne to supposedly ‘enforce’ lockdown measures during COVID-19 outbreaks.

After leaving flood victims to fend for themselves for days, thousands of troops are now being sent in as anger mounts over Australian governments’ failure to respond to the flood crisis.

While extreme weather is a natural phenomenon, the flood crisis cannot be explained simply as an unfortunate and unavoidable accident. The multitude of failures on display – from the lack of timely warnings, the inadequacy of rescue services, the continued absence of basic supplies and services, and the pitiful financial aid offered – are all products of the subordination of society to the demands of corporate profit.

Even the increasing frequency and severity of “natural disasters” is the result of climate change, itself a product of the destructive practices of the world’s largest corporations, supported by all national capitalist governments.

The current flood disaster is just one of a series of catastrophic examples of the existential crisis facing the world’s population. The urgent task of the working class, in Australia and around the world, is to lead a political struggle to establish workers’ governments and socialist policies.

About Marco C. Nichols

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