Three dead as severe storms hit New South Wales in Australia
Three people have died in New South Wales as powerful storms batter the Australian state.
The two men and a woman were found dead in Dungog north of Sydney, one of the worst affected areas, where homes have been washed away by flooding.
Some 215,000 homes are without power in Sydney and across New South Wales.
People have been urged to head home, as Australia's weather agency warned more severe weather would hit parts of the state on Tuesday night.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has issued a severe weather warning for the Sydney area, Hunter and Illawarra forecasting "damaging and locally destructive winds, damaging winds, heavy rainfall and damaging surf".
Winds of up to 135km/h (85 mph) were recorded in some areas, with up to 200mm of rainfall forecast for Tuesday.
State premier Mike Baird has urged workers from the Illawarra region, south of Sydney, to the Hunter region several hours north of Sydney, to go home before storm conditions worsen.
"It is a huge storm event that is wreaking havoc across New South Wales at the moment," he said.
"What our priority has to be at the moment is to get through the next few hours and protect life at every opportunity."
A major flood warning has been issued for the Paterson and Williams Rivers in Hunter.
The State Emergency Service (SES) said it had received more than 4,400 calls for help, and carried out dozens of flood rescues.
People were reported to be trapped in cars and homes and stuck on the rooftops of houses.
Most of the emergency calls had come from Sydney and the regions of Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra.
A Carnival cruise ship is stuck at sea outside Sydney Harbour - which has been closed - and dozens of flights have been delayed, local media report.
NSW police confirmed the deaths of three people in Dungog but said the circumstances surrounding their deaths were still being determined. In Dungog, 312mm of rain fell in just 24 hours.
In said in a statement that "numerous calls were received by emergency services for assistance, particularly in the Stroud and Dungog areas".
Eyewitness account: Glenn Wall, Dungog Shire councillor
There is no mobile phone reception in Dungog and the landlines are not working.
Every river system that we have up here is in severe flood mode. I have heard [from officials] that four houses have been inundated and washed away.
It has been raining for about 24 hours now but in the early hours of this morning it really started coming down heavily.
I have real concern about the next 24 hours because there are reports of another storm front coming in from the north.
SES Deputy Commissioner Steven Pearce told ABC News that the number of calls for help had been "enormous".
"We haven't seen this sort of weather pattern, this east coast low or one as severe as this in years," he said.
"The consistent gale force winds which are actually cyclonic in some areas with gusts up to 135km/h."
The strongest winds overnight were recorded at Norah Head in the Central Coast region. Local media have also reported that an 11m (36ft) wave was seen off Sydney.
State-owned supplier Ausgrid tweeted that some 215,000 homes and businesses were without power across Sydney, Central Coast and Hunter.
It added that although emergency crews were working at several locations, the storm was continuing to damage the network and repairs could take several days.
The heavy winds and rain have also caused travel disruption in Sydney.
The Transport Management Centre for NSW said that staying home may be the best option for many people.
"If you don't need to be out on the road, probably best not to be," said spokesman Brett Moore, as quoted by ABC News.
A number of main roads and railway lines have had to be closed because of the storm.
Transport NSW have also cancelled the Manly Fast ferry service because of the dangerous weather conditions.
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