Residents of South Ballina said it was ‘too late to leave’ as emergency services restart rescue efforts for dozens of trapped Lismore residents

Thousands of residents of a coastal holiday town have been told to prepare for floodwaters to inundate homes and businesses as Lismore emergency services continue rescue operations to save trapped residents .

Hundreds of people are missing and dozens of residents on rooftops and huddled in attics are still waiting to be rescued after Queensland’s deadly weather system crashed into northern New South Wales.

Residents living around the Northern Rivers region were warned by the SES to be on high alert as it was next in the line of fire for dangerous flooding.

Residents of South Ballina were told on Tuesday to immediately evacuate to higher ground as rising floodwaters “began to make it unsafe” to leave.

A number of other major floods are occurring in the state with a major flood warning for the Tweed River, Richmond River, Clarence River and Orara River.

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The Bureau of Meteorology warned that an east coast low is expected to form on Wednesday, bringing damaging winds and flooding to the south of the state.

Heavy rain will make its way to Sydney throughout the day with warnings of showers in the late afternoon and evening.

Up to 200mm are expected to fall in the city over the next 48 hours.

Lismore faced Mother Nature head-on with the city’s worst flooding setting a new record of 14.4m, two meters higher than the 1954 record of 12.27m.

Residents were taken by surprise in the early hours of Monday morning with rapidly rising waters well above the second floors of many businesses and homes.

SES staff and volunteers were unable to continue rescues overnight and will begin an operation on Tuesday as floodwaters slowly recede.

Good Samaritans are likely to be part of the rescue effort again after boat owners responded to calls from emergency services to bring in any watercraft they owned.

Dozens of boats from across the city and surrounding areas were seen driving on major roads and low-lying areas to rescue trapped families and elderly people who couldn’t escape.

An Australian Defense Force helicopter is said to be on standby Tuesday to help search for stranded residents.

SES assistance commissioner Sean Kearns said the threat had subsided at Lismore and did not expect further increases in the river system.

“Our aim is to try to get (rescue) people out today if conditions allow,” he told Sky News Australia.

“We have aviation assets up there, we have our volunteers in boats, we have partners from Marine Rescue and NSW Police who will help us.”

Assistant Comm Kearns could not provide a definitive count of the number of people trapped on rooftops as many were rescued by locals, but said it was “many”.

Social media footage showed the desperate scramble of residents who were forced to punch a hole in their tin roofs to escape rising floodwaters lapping at the ceiling.

Residents of the flood-prone town, which is surrounded by the River Wilson and Leycester Creek, described it as a “one in 500 year” event.

“We’re talking about flooding bigger than history,” Lismore resident Matt Tanttari told Peter Stefanovic in First Edition.

“One in 500 (year) type thing.

“My dad was a town planner so I know what it looks like on the topography and it’s an absolute national disaster to be honest.”

Residents are encouraged to monitor ses.nsw.gov.au and bom.gov.au/nsw/warnings for the latest updates.

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