Some towns were evacuated, some cut off by rising waters and great swathes of farmland lost harvests in the worst flooding Australia has seen in decades.

“We’ve never seen it like this before; it just keeps on coming,” farmer Philippa McGaw said on Thursday after her Crookwell, New South Wales, property received 150 millimetres in 18 hours.

This week’s downpours have wrecked the grain harvest for many farmers in the south-west who were banking on a bumper crop to help them recover from a 10-year drought.

Some residents were ordered out of Queanbeyan, near Canberra, after a river burst its banks, rendering roads impassable and houses inhabitable.

Resident Betty Fraser said her laundry was flooded to a depth of 200 millimetres. “The Queanbeyan golf course is a sea, and there’s general panic along the river flats,” she said.

New South Wales State Emergency Service spokesman Tony Casey said the flooding was the worst in more than 30 years. His warning: “Stay at home. Don’t cross floodwaters.” Cautions about crossing flooded roads have been ignored by some.

Four have died in cars swept off causeways, and more were missing as emergencies are declared in five of the nation’s eight states and territories.

Australia has had its wettest Southern Hemisphere spring on record with some parts receiving a month’s rain in a day.

“This was one of the most significant weather events in this state for a lot of years,” said South Australian State Emergency Services assistant chief officer Matthew Maywald.

“A number of people chose to drive through floodwaters, and there were a number of rescues,” he said. “People were lucky they didn’t lose their lives.”

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