[SYDNEY] A cyclonic storm lashed Australia's east coast for a third day on Wednesday, causing millions of dollars of damage to property and infrastructure in Sydney and other cities.
Three people have been killed in the wild weather, which has washed away houses, cut power to more than 200,000 homes and stranded a cruise ship off the coast in mountainous seas.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned that a second storm cell was gathering off the coast north of Sydney, with gale force winds of up to 100 km per hour (62 miles per hour) and heavy winds lashing the coast.
The storm caused havoc in Sydney, felling trees, downing power lines and knocking out traffic lights. Delayed and cancelled transport services due to flooding and strong winds left many commuters stranded in the wet.
New South Wales State Premier Mike Baird urged Sydneysiders to delay unnecessary travel and avoid travelling during peak times if possible. "There is no doubt this is a very severe storm event, indeed it is a once in 10-year event," Mr Baird told reporters.
The Insurance Council of Australia said more than 7,500 insurance claims had been lodged. NSW State Emergency Service deputy commissioner Steve Pearce said damage costs were already in the millions and were expected to rise.
Networks NSW, the state electricity provider, estimated that the overall repair bill to electricity networks would be many millions of dollars.
Cyclone-strength winds of up to 135 kph (85 mph) across the state have uprooted trees, some crushing cars, snapped power poles and torn off roofs and building awnings.
One of the worst hit areas was the town of Dungog, about about 200 kms (125 miles) north of Sydney, where a woman and two men were found dead on Tuesday. Media reports described them as elderly and said they were trapped in their homes as floodwaters rose.
Amateur video showed a house in Dungog floating away as floodwaters swept through the town.
Three hospitals were without power and had to rely on generators and scores of schools were closed.
Huge waves, reaching 11.2 metres (33 feet) offshore, pounded beaches. Rail links to the north and south of Sydney were cut and many roads in Australia's largest city were flooded.
Sydney Harbour was closed to commercial shipping, leaving a cruise ship with some 2,500 passengers to wait off the coast, battered by big swells. Giant seas closed many beaches, including world-famous Bondi Beach.