Despite a brief respite of rain, authorities fear more lives could be lost as thousands remain at the mercy of unpredictable floodwaters in Victoria.
Victorian SES chief Tim Wiebusch issued a specific warning for locals to be on the lookout for ‘blue sky flooding’ where clearing clouds lure people into a false sense of security that the risk is over when floodwaters are still rapidly rising.
‘One of the challenges is we’ve not got what we call blue sky flooding,’ Mr Wiebusch told ABC News.
‘The rain has stopped … I think it’s more obvious to people when there’s heavier rain.’
Urgent evacuation orders are still being issued but in some places it is too late to flee as swollen rivers burst their banks and inundated thousands of properties overnight, swept away highways and cut power off.
Mr Wiebusch urged people not to drive through floodwaters as rescuers desperately try to reach anyone stranded.
‘That just ties up our emergency services that could be supporting more vulnerable communities that are under pressure with these floods,’ he said.
‘So please turn around, find an alternate way to get there. If you don’t need to be travelling in those northern parts of Victoria, don’t travel at all.’
Road damage and flooding is seen on Midland Highway near Elmore in northern Victoria.
Desperate residents in Echuca, on the NSW-Victorian border, constructed a sandbag wall to try and keep the rising floodwaters at bay.
While the wall worked to keep residents safe through Saturday night, the water began to seep through on Sunday morning, inching closer to residents’ homes.
More than 1000 residents in Echuca and Echuca Village have been told to evacuate their homes with authorities advising them to expect to be away for seven to 10 days.
Echuca Village is expected to be impacted by the middle of next week with flow-on effects from the Goulburn and Murray rivers.
Authorities predicted about 200 Echuca homes would be impacted by floodwaters.
The Campaspe River was expected to surpass 2011 flood levels at Echuca on Saturday.
Residents in the northern Victorian town of Echuca have mounted a desperate defence of their properties with sandbags
There have been more than 450 rescues since the flooding began on Wednesday, and 88 rescues in the last 24 hours.
On Saturday, a 71-year-old man was found drowned on his property in the northern Victorian town of Rochester, with police unable to reach him.
The Greater Shepparton City Council said that more than 7,950 properties in the northern Victorian municipality have been flooded.
The Campaspe River already burst its banks in Axedale, with a Twitter video posted by Seven News reporter Paul Dowsley revealing the raging water had almost obliterated the McIvor Highway.
Evacuation alerts have been upgraded for Shepparton, Orrvale, Kialla West, and Mooroopna to reflect it is too late for residents to leave those areas.
Waters overcame a flood barrier at an electricity sub-station in Mooroopna, cutting off power to 6,000 properties.
Powercor confirmed 5,954 homes west of Mooroopna, including the town of Tatura, had lost electricity.
The situation is set to continue for days.
The Midland Highway, also known as the Mooroopna Causeway, was slated to be closed on Sunday but authorities announced it would close between Mooroopna and Shepparton from 6.30pm on Saturday.
The Goulburn River is expected to peak at 12 metres at Shepparton on Tuesday, making the flood the area’s worst in decades.
People clear mud from a property damaged by floods in the Melbourne suburb of Maribyrnong
Loddon Mallee incident controller Mark Cattell said he wanted people to evacuate before things became dangerous.
‘What we don’t want is the Rochester situation where people were comfortable with what was happening, and they were comfortable to stay there, despite us giving them a pretty bleak picture of where it was going to be,’ Mr Cattell said.
‘We’ve spent the last two days evacuating people out of Rochester using boats in some very risky situations.’
Maribyrnong MP Bill Shorten said it was the worst the river has flooded in 50 years.
Hundreds of homes in Rochester were overwhelmed by the flooded Campaspe River, one of dozens of waterways to burst their banks and send northern Victorian towns underwater
Twitter users shared images of the devastation that floodwaters were leaving in their wake
The Ovens river at Wangaratta has already reached 12.8 metres and could rise further.
At Charlton major flooding of the Avoca River is expected to impact the town for up to five days.
Asphalt highways were no match for the power of floodwaters throughout northern Victoria
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said more than 340 roads were out of action across the state.
‘Major roads are assessed twice per day. There is a number of urgent repair works that have already started,’ he said.
The warning for Wangaratta applied to people living around the Parfitt Road levee system because of the major flooding occurring on the Ovens River.
More rain could hit the NSW coast as people living in already saturated catchment areas prepare for more water to flow to flood-struck communities.
The Bureau of Meteorology said showers and storms could develop on the east coast on Sunday although inland areas that have received the bulk of recent rainfall were expected to be spared a further deluge.
Police confirmed a man was found dead in floodwaters in the backyard of a High Street, Rochester home at 9:30am on Saturday. Hundreds of homes in the central Victorian town were overwhelmed from Friday (pictured, a car in Bendigo)
But another storm system was forecast to develop over central Australia on Tuesday, bringing widespread rain and thunderstorms to eastern states by mid-next week.
Heavy downpours in Victoria were also expected to affect towns along the Murray River, including in Moama from Wednesday.
‘There is major flooding occurring in multiple catchments right across the state, (and) some communities will move more towards relief and recovery sooner as waters start to recede,’ SES spokesman Jamie Devenish said.
‘A lot of those northern catchments ultimately flow into the Murray, so (for) the Murray River we’re probably looking at a protracted flood event for the next four to six weeks.’
Swollen rivers across Victoria are expected to bring flooding to the state for up to six weeks. Pictured, Beechworth Woolshed Falls near Wangaratta
Victoria’s northern towns were worst hit, but the flooding hit the centre of Melbourne too. Rescue workers use an inflatable dinghy to rescue people from floodwaters in Maribyrnong
Major flooding from the Murrumbidgee River wasn’t expected to reach the town of Hay until late October, the bureau said.
October rainfall records have been set in parts of inland NSW, including at Broken Hill in the state’s far west.
The massive clean-up and recovery efforts across the drenched states are set to be put on hold with 100mm of rainfall predicted in coming days.
The weather office said rain and thunderstorms developing in South Australia and inland Queensland would bring ‘much more widespread’ rainfall and ‘renewed flooding’ back to the south-east from Wednesday.
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jonathan How told Daily Mail Australia Tasmania, Victoria and NSW would only get ‘a few days of reprieve’.
He said a weather system developing ‘will start to produce showers and thunderstorms across South Australia and inland Queensland from Tuesday and then extend to the rest of the east coast from Wednesday to Saturday.’
‘This will be much more widespread,’ he warned.
‘So we will see showers all the way from central northern Queensland, down to Tasmania and particularly with this, we will see thunderstorms as well.
‘So expecting widespread falls which could produce renewed flooding for some parts of the south-east and the east.’
Mr How said heaviest rainfall is predicted for south-east Queensland and northern NSW.
He said that region will see between 50 and 100mm of rainfall though further south is still vulnerable to heavy local rainfall likely to come with thunderstorms.