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Sydney residents evacuated, some for the third time in a month

Residents in low-lying areas of Greater Sydney are in for another anxious night as floodwaters rise after torrential rain hit the city on Thursday, forcing 1600 people to flee their homes – some having done so several times in the past month.

While very heavy rainfall is expected to ease from Friday morning, the weather bureau warned on Thursday afternoon that major flooding of the already swollen Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers may exceed levels reached last month and in 1988.

SES crews rescued Simone Baluch, 32, from her family home in Chipping Norton, with her dog and a litter of kittens in tow, when waters rose unexpectedly quickly as she tried to move household items upstairs. It’s the third time in four weeks the home where she lives with her mother, stepfather, sister and niece – plus pets – has been subject to evacuation orders.

Before this year, the house her grandparents bought in the 1970s had only been evacuated twice: in 2020 and 1989. In 2020, Ms Baluch said, nearly the entire first floor of the house went under. So far, she is relieved “that hasn’t been replicated”.

But the stress of such frequent evacuations is “exhausting”, she said, especially with no end to the wet weather in sight.

The Georges River, which Ms Baluch’s home backs onto, peaked at moderate level on Thursday afternoon, but the Bureau of Meteorology warned further heavy rainfall in the next six-12 hours could result in renewed rises.

In addition to Chipping Norton, evacuation orders were also in place for parts of Woronora and Bonnet Bay in the city’s south, and Camden in the south-west.

Major flooding hit Menangle on Thursday afternoon, and was expected to exceed the March 2022 and 1988 flood levels. Major flooding was also expected for the Nepean River at Wallacia, and possibly Camden, later in the evening.

Bureau senior meteorologist Jake Phillips said a number of locations along southern and central parts of the coast recorded 50-100mm of rainfall, “which comes on top of yesterday’s falls of at least 100-200mm in many of the same areas”.

A severe weather warning for heavy rainfall is in place for a large area of NSW spanning from Newcastle to Merimbula along the coast, and including parts of the Central and Southern Tablelands – although conditions are expected to ease from Friday morning.

Some of the biggest rainfall swamped the Illawarra, as well as metropolitan Sydney: In Bellambi, 123 millimetres fell from midnight to 4pm; over the same period, 117 millimetres fell at Lucas Heights and 99 millimetres fell in Sydney CBD.

The “exceptionally sharp, short bursts of rain”, as described by NSW SES Acting Commissioner Daniel Austin, created “significant flash flooding events” in the city and Illawarra – and some spectacular storm waterfalls off the cliffs in Sydney’s east.

A spokeswoman for the SES said in the 24 hours to 5pm on Thursday, it had received more than 930 calls for assistance across Greater Sydney, while crews had performed 12 rescues on people who had driven into floodwaters or, like Ms Baluch, found themselves suddenly isolated as surrounding water rose to hip-height.

The relatively low number of rescues compared to requests for assistance – especially sandbagging – suggests “people are heeding the warnings”, the spokeswoman said.

While many drivers did their best to avoid the roads, the public transport network was hampered by the rain on Thursday, which prevented trains from running on the Southern Highlands line between Campbelltown and Moss Vale due to flooding on the tracks at Picton.

Flooding also stopped trains operating between Wollongong and Albion Park on the South Coast line, while urgent repairs at Wynyard Station caused delays to services on multiple lines.

Transport Minister David Elliott said the government had been working to return trains to their regular timetable after the latest storms and heavy rain caused “fallen debris, mudslides, sinkholes and flooded tracks” across more than 200 at-risk sites.


Sydney Local

Coates is accused of “bribing” African coaches over Olympics

John Coates, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee and outgoing president of the Australian National Olympic Committee, said “to a large extent” that Sydney was awarded the summer Olympic Games in 2000 because it “bought the Games”.

In extracts from a recently discovered hour-long interview in 2008Coates revealed that he offered payments to two African National Olympic Committees who were represented on the IOC panel in exchange for their votes in 1993.

Coates, who is also the president of the court of arbitration for sport, was cleared of any wrongdoing in 1999 in respect to this by an independent report by the auditor Tom Sheridan after it was alleged that this amounted to him offering bribes in exchange for votes. Sheridan said the payments were not offered directly to the IOC members and also criticised the IOC guidelines for bidding cities as unworkable.

He later admitted promising an extra $35,000 to both the NOCs represented by Kenya’s IOC member Charles Mukora and Uganda’s IOC member Francis Nyangweso at a dinner on the last night before the IOC vote in Monte Carlo. “I wasn’t going to die wondering why we didn’t win,” said Coates in 1999, adding that there had been nothing “sinister” about the arrangement.

“There were no payments made, letters were handed over with commitments to two African NOCs,” he added in 2004 after an investigation by the BBC Panorama programme.

Coates, the leading Australian official in the Olympic movement, was vice-president of the Sydney bid committee. It is understood that Coates does not dispute that, on behalf of the Australian Organising Committee at the time, he offered contingent grants and sports assistance to the NOCs of Kenya and Uganda under the AOC’s programme of assistance to African NOCs. Such grants were not in breach of any IOC candidature rules at the time. They were subsequently banned by the IOC in the wake of a corruption scandal surrounding Salt Lake City’s successful bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Coates detailed his agreement with Mukora and Nyangweso in 1993 in an hour-long interview ranging over his career with Victoria University sports lecturer Bob Stewart in 2008, as part of a Sports Oral History for the National Library of Australia.

Nyangweso was cleared of any wrongdoing by an investigation in 1999, while Mukora resigned from the IOC in 1999 after the Sheridan report recommended he should be expelled. Mukora was also accused of receiving payments to his personal bank account from the Salt Lake bid team.

Coates explained the offer to Mukora and Nyangweso, made by him as the president of the Australian Olympic Committee. “Clearly the Ugandan and Kenyan members I think were very nervous about having to deal with me because I sat at their table at a big banquet the night before,” he remembered. “So I just went over and said to them, ‘Look if, you know, if you vote for us and we get up, then there’s $50,000 US [a different figure to the $35,000 that has been reported] for each of your two National Olympic Committees, 10 a year for the next five years or whatever, you tell them it’s to be spent on sporting purposes.

“That subsequently, and it was quite open about it, it was all audited. But subsequently one of those members was seen to have directed the 10 into his own bank account and there was an inquiry into all of that and so it’s suggested we bought the Games. Well to a large extent we did …”

Coates also said that he arranged for athletes and coaches from African countries to be provided with scholarships to train at the renowned Australian Institute of Sport in Adelaide in the lead up to the Sydney Games at a cost that was later revealed to have reached $2m, a scheme he admitted was “very important” in securing the Games.

“Wherever we would go the Chinese had put a hospital in … we were driving into Mali and they’d just say: ‘Oh, that’s the bridge that the Chinese have just built’. And they were doing the same in the Pacific,” recalled Coates.

“Obviously our government doesn’t spend money like that … And so we went away with a package of scholarships to the AIS and we were offering for two athletes and a coach to come. The idea was that the coach would learn something and go back and be able to pass that on to a wider group of people. We got there and we saw what was happening in the real world.

“So I took the decision to make it – ‘well there’s one scholarship we’re giving out but if we win you get it every year for seven years and we’ll run a camp in Australia for all your teams before they come here’. And we did that – we spent a fair bit of money.”

A spokesperson for the IOC told the Guardian that none of its regulations at the time had been broken.

“At the time of the Sydney 2000 candidature, financial support from an NOC standing as a candidate to an NOC for sports development was not included in the rules in force at that time. When this situation became public, it was stated that the then rules had not been breached. However, immediately afterwards the rules of conduct for the following candidature process were amended in 2003.”

Lawyers acting for Coates said he had a long and distinguished reputation in the Olympic movement and the world of sport and expressed concern that the extracts had been taken out of context. They added: “We are instructed that the IOC publicly confirmed that Mr Coates had not breached its rules at the time.”

Ian Chesterman, the chef de mission of the Australia team at the Tokyo Olympics, is succeeding Coates as AOC president after being elected by AOC delegates on Saturday.

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‘Anti-government’ ideology behind alleged Windang terror attack: police

Police have charged a man with committing an act of terrorism after he allegedly armed himself with two large guns and fired at members of the public before barricading himself inside a shop south of Sydney last year.

It is the first time an individual who is alleged to have “an ideologically motivated violent extremist ideology” has been charged with committing a terror attack in Australia, AFP Assistant Commissioner Scott Lee told reporters on Wednesday. He added that the alleged attack was consistent with the current terror threat from “lone wolf” actors with “mixed ideologies”, which boil down to being anti-government.

The “frightening” incident unfolded on a Sunday morning on the main street of Windang, near Wollongong, on November 28. Police responded to reports that a man armed with two firearms had fired at vehicles and pedestrians before entering a dive shop on Windang Road.

Video taken by bystanders showed a man clad head-to-toe in black and carrying a large gun appearing to take shots outside on the quiet shopping strip.

It’s alleged that, after entering the dive shop, 40-year-old Simon Fleming barricaded himself inside and briefly held the store owner hostage while an employee managed to escape. The owner of the store was later released uninjured.

Local police – assisted by heavily armed tactical officers, negotiators, the bomb squad and the dog unit – established a perimeter at the scene and, following negotiations, the man surrendered. He was arrested about 10.30am and taken to Lake Illawarra police station where he was charged with six offences. Nobody was hurt in the incident.

As part of ongoing investigations, a crime scene warrant was executed at a home at Windang, where several items, including firearms, knives and electronic devices, were seized for further examination.

Police said he was found to be in possession of several documents containing extremist ideologies and a willingness to commit violent acts.

The NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team – made up of members from the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the NSW Crime Commission – subsequently began an investigation into the man’s activities, under Operation Bletsoe.

On Wednesday, Mr Fleming appeared via audio-visual link at Wollongong Local Court where the new charge of engaging in a terrorist act was laid.

The maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment.

Speaking with reporters in Sydney on Wednesday, NSW Police Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Commander, Mark Walton, said the alleged incident is consistent with the current “probable” security threat posed by “lone actors, and particularly people with an ideology, and mixed ideologies”.

Assistant Commissioner Walton said those ideologies can range from white supremacy to anti-vaccination, but underpinning most, currently, is anti-government ideology.

He urged the community to continue to be vigilant and report suspicious activity to police “so that we can continue to be successful and intervene in matters of risk before they move into matters of violence”.

While “it’s fine for people to have their own views”, Assistant Commissioner Walton said, the “exponential consumption of these ideologies on the internet” is increasing the likelihood of their proponents turning to violence.

Commissioner Lee also urged people “who have got insights into their family members” to come forward if they suspect radicalisation and enable police to intervene. He said police would “act where we can to support those individuals to disengage them from further radicalisation”.

The lone wolf threat is “further exacerbated by the global narrative that continues to be shared on online environments, and how that either directs, inspires or influences individuals within our country,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed, “where we have individuals in the community who are physically and socially isolated, or they spend a lot of time in the online environment.”

Commissioner Lee also stressed that police “target criminality regardless of the background of the perpetrator. We target criminal activity, not ideologies or backgrounds.”

Investigations by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team are continuing, but police said there was no ongoing threat to the community relating to this investigation.


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Sydney Local

Effective ways to get rid of drowsiness while driving

Hans Gunter-Vis said that motorists can overcome fatigue and a desire to sleep while driving, taking..

Hans Gunter-Vis said that motorists can overcome fatigue and a desire to sleep while driving, taking a short nap in the rest areas on the road.

He added that physical activity or some sports movements in the rest areas can also be used to maintain alertness and attention while driving. Energy drinks, opening windows or listening to loudspeakers are less effective means of maintaining vigilance while driving. .

The German expert said that the brain in the dark produces hormones that call to fatigue and enhance the chances of sleep, and therefore tends to fatigue and fatigue during the winter, which negatively affects the ability to drive the car and may lead to sleep for a few seconds.

Indications of tiredness and exhaustion during driving are frequent yawning and mental anguish.

The German expert warned that sleep while driving can cause serious accidents. Closing the eye for only 3 seconds at 100 kilometers per hour means 80 meters without seeing anything on the road.

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