SYDNEY, March 7 — Frustration swelled among many flood-hit residents in Australia’s east over slow relief and recovery efforts as Sydney braced for more heavy downpours over the next two days that may hamper clean-up plans.

Thousands were forced to flee their homes after torrential rains since late last month brought widespread destruction, cutting off towns, and sweeping away farms, livestock and roads. Eighteen people have been killed since the deluge began.

“These are terrible, terrible floods,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told radio station 2GB on Monday. “These are floods that we have not seen in living memory in anyone’s lifetime, and even before that. And so I can understand the great frustration (we are) seeing expressed.”

More defence force personnel are being sent to flood-affected areas immediately to lead the recovery, said Morrison, who is trailing in polls ahead of a federal election due by May.

Residents have been taking stock of the damage over the weekend while struggling to clear debris and sludge after water levels receded in some places.

“We’ve had a week of no communications, no food, no fuel … it has been quite unnerving and emotional,” a resident in far northern New South Wales town of Murwillumbah, among the worst hit by record floods, told broadcaster ABC.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet, on a tour of the flood-hit regions, said the recovery could take years.

“The stories that we’ve heard, the sense of abandonment that many people had in devastating circumstances is heartbreaking, and we need to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Rains have eased over the last two days but the weather bureau on Monday issued a ‘severe warning’ for parts of New South Wales, including state capital Sydney, as a second intense low-pressure system forms off the east coast in as many weeks.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecast rains of up to 120 mm (5 inches) in Sydney on Monday and 150 mm Tuesday. Several suburbs have already received more than double March’s mean rainfall of around 140 mm. — Reuters