500,000 People on Flood Alert as Rain Lashes Sydney

SYDNEY (AP) -- Around 500,000 people in Sydney and its surrounding areas had by Thursday been told to evacuate or prepare to flee floodwaters as torrential rain lashed an extraordinarily long stretch of the Australian east coast.

Rivers were rising in Australia's most populous city, home to 5 million, with New South Wales' State Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke warning of "treacherous weather conditions" over the next 24 hours.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology warned of life-threatening flash flooding and damaging winds with peak gusts in excess of 90 kilometers (56 miles) an hour.

Major flooding was expected along several rivers in and around Sydney. Dozens of suburbs were on high alert.

The State Emergency Service issued evacuation orders to 200,000 residents and evacuation warnings had been sent to another 300,000.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet urged residents to take the orders seriously.

"We do believe that things will get worse before they get better," Perrottet said.

Minor flood warnings were also issued for coastal communities as far as 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Sydney.

Floodwaters were also rising in Brisbane, Australia's third-most populous city 730 kilometers (450 miles) north of Sydney, as severe thunder storms struck.

Hailstones 5 to 6 centimeters (2 inches) wide pounded the town of Inglewood, 270 kilometers (170 miles) southwest of Brisbane, early Thursday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Extraordinarily heavy rain brought flash floods to the Queensland state coast 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of the capital Brisbane last week and a south-moving low-pressure system had since brought the rain south of Sydney.

The flooding has claimed 14 lives in Queensland and neighboring New South Wales since Feb. 22, when the body of a 63-year-old woman was recovered from a submerged car at Belli Park, north of Brisbane.

In New South Wales, a 54-year-old man was found Friday in a submerged SUV in Matcham, 90 kilometers (50 miles) north of Sydney.

Most recently, a man in his 70s was found in his flooded apartment Wednesday in Lismore, New South Wales. Four people died in the town of 28,000.

Several Brisbane suburbs remain flooded after the river that snakes through the city center peaked on Monday.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Commissioner John Cawcutt said hundreds of people were calling for help in Brisbane -- home to 2.6 million people -- and its surrounds with heavy rain causing flash flooding.

"We've got high winds and of course we've got the potential for flash flooding because of the already sodden ground out there," Cawcutt told Nine Network television.

"Because of the saturation, creeks are rising very, very quickly -- drains, stormwater areas, water is bubbling up from below ground so it's right across Brisbane," Cawcutt added.

He described the dangerous weather extending north of Brisbane and south of Sydney as an "enormous event."

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Laura Boekel said thunderstorms brought the chance of more flooding, extending 450 kilometers (280 miles) north from Brisbane to Bundaberg during the next day or two.

"This is a very dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation for southeast Queensland," Boekel said.