By RICK RYCROFT and ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press

SYDNEY (AP) — About 500,000 people in and around Sydney were ordered Thursday to evacuate or prepare to flee floodwaters as torrential rains battered an extraordinarily long stretch of Australia’s east coast.

Rivers were rising in Australia’s most populous city, which has a population of 5 million, with New South Wales State Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke warning of ‘hazardous weather conditions’ at the over the next 24 hours.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has warned of life-threatening flash floods and damaging winds with maximum gusts of more than 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour.

Major flooding was expected along several rivers in and around Sydney. Dozens of suburbs were on high alert.

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The state emergency department issued evacuation orders to 200,000 residents and evacuation warnings were sent to another 300,000.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet urged residents to take orders seriously.

“We think things will get worse before they get better,” Perrottet said.

Minor flood warnings have also been issued for coastal communities up to 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Sydney.

Floodwaters also rose in Brisbane, Australia’s third most populous city 730 kilometers (450 miles) north of Sydney, as severe thunderstorms hit.

Hailstones 5 to 6 centimeters (2 inches) pounded the town of Inglewood, 270 kilometers (170 miles) southwest of Brisbane, early Thursday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Extraordinarily heavy rain caused flash flooding on the Queensland state coast 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of the capital Brisbane last week and a southward-moving low pressure system has since brought the rain south of Sydney.

Floods have claimed 14 lives in Queensland and neighboring New South Wales since February 22, when the body of a 63-year-old woman was found in a submerged car in Belli Park, north of Brisbane.

In New South Wales, a 54-year-old man was found in a submerged SUV on Friday in Matcham, 90 kilometers (50 miles) north of Sydney.

More recently, a man in his 60s was found in his flooded flat in Lismore, New South Wales on Wednesday. Four people died in the city of 28,000.

Several Brisbane suburbs remain inundated after the river winding through the city center peaked on Monday.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner John Cawcutt said hundreds of people were calling for help in Brisbane – home to 2.6 million people – and surrounding areas with heavy rain causing sudden floods.

“We have high winds and of course we have the potential for flash flooding due to the already soggy ground there,” Cawcutt told Nine Network television.

“Due to saturation, streams are coming up very, very quickly – drains, stormwater areas, water is bubbling up from underground, so it’s right through Brisbane,” Cawcutt added.

He described the dangerous weather spreading north of Brisbane and south of Sydney as a “huge event”.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Laura Boekel said thunderstorms were likely to cause more flooding, stretching 450 kilometers (280 miles) north from Brisbane to Bundaberg over the next two days.

“This is a very dangerous and life threatening situation for South East Queensland,” Boekel said.

McGuirk contributed from Canberra, Australia.

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