Australia: Within three years, Rory had a fire

Inondation à Windsor, au nord-ouest de Sydney en Australie, le 23 mars 2021 (AFP - Saeed KHAN)

Rory Kirkland, 17, has been living in Australia for just three years, but has already suffered a devastating wildfire, and his home is now threatened by flooding on the east coast of the largest island-continent.

The Hawksbury River rises from its bed, passing through valleys and fertile farmland from the east coast to the South Pacific.

Floodwaters carry branches, plastic bags, cars, containers and at least a house.

“This is my garden,” Rory laments, wearing rain boots, pointing to the reeds of grass and trees that have turned into a vast lake of muddy water.

“This tree is about eight meters tall. You can see that it is only 30 cm high. The water has risen above.”

Australians are well aware that global warming exposes them to frequent and intense weather events. But very few, in recent years, can predict that the massive island-continent will be affected by such disasters.

The young man has been living in Windsor, northwest Sydney, for three years.

“We left the UK in 2017,” he said, describing what he did in such a short period of time as “crazy”.

During months of wildfires in the Sydney region in 2019 and 2020, five million people in Australia’s most populous city were surrounded by clouds of smoke and ash for weeks.

“Last year we experienced wildfires and floods and now more floods,” Kirkland said.

“It’s crazy, especially compared to the UK. It’s almost intense.

– Frequency increases –

However, this flood was not unexpected. Scientists say the warmer climate retains more moisture, so rainfall is expected to increase by about 7% as temperatures rise by one degree due to global warming.

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“The valley has been flooded since the early years of the British occupation two centuries ago,” said Jamie Pittock, an environmentalist at the Australian National University.

“Now climate change is likely to increase the frequency of these dangerous floods.”

After several years of drought, parts of eastern Australia received days equal to about a year of rainfall.

From his home, located on a small hillside, Rory filmed the rising water. It started with small streams that took over the land until the vast expanse of brown water.

“We were told to leave,” he said.

So the family left at night, but returned when they learned that the electricity would not be cut off.

Even if the rainfall calms down and the water level drops slightly, the new rise in water levels cannot be ruled out in the coming days.

“Nearly a meter of water came from our front door. If it rises today, it may reach our door,” he fears.

Windsor floods on March 23, 2021 in northwest Sydney, Australia (AFP – Saeed KHAN)

His neighbors were unlucky and they lost the ground floor of the house and were forced to flee.

While waiting for the water to recede and clean-up operations begin, Australians are trying to use this new nature, which causes a worrying frequency of “events that only happen once a year”.

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Cory Weinberg

About the Author: Cory Weinberg

Cory Weinberg covers the intersection of tech and cities. That means digging into how startups and big tech companies are trying to reshape real estate, transportation, urban planning, and travel. Previously, he reported on Bay Area housing and commercial real estate for the San Francisco Business Times. He received a "best young journalist" award from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

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