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Floodwaters submerge parts of outback SA as rain washes away highway and cars

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Rescue crews have been kept busy by outback floodwaters and record-breaking rains, which have continued to cause havoc in South Australia's north and west, washing away roads as well as cars.

The weather bureau said some locations had set "all-time records" in terms of rainfall, while social media is awash with photos and videos of inundated highways. 

Several people were rescued by the State Emergency Service (SES) after becoming trapped by floodwaters — including one who was swept 80 metres downstream and waited on top of his semi-submerged car for "at least four hours" as crews travelled to his remote location.

An entire section of the Olympic Dam Highway was also eroded between Pimba and Woomera, cutting off access from Roxby Downs.

"The road's completely washed out. The bitumen is not there anymore," said Pei Stephenson, who manages Spud's Roadhouse in Pimba.

"It's definitely busier than the last week or so with people stuck in here because normally they would keep going, but now they can't go anywhere."

The SES has been inundated with more than 300 calls for assistance in the past few days, with one crew reporting that it had been called upon to rescue 11 people who found themselves trapped by floodwaters.

The SES's Coober Pedy unit said it initially responded to a request for assistance by two people on Kempe Road, connecting Coober Pedy with Oodnadatta.

"While coming up with a plan to rescue occupants of the car, an additional nine people got stuck at the same location," the unit wrote on Facebook.

"Unfortunately due to road conditions we were unable to reach them, supplies were dropped by … [a] search and rescue aircraft, all 11 people made it safely to town."

Another SES crew said it had been called upon to rescue a driver washed off the Outback Way "in the northern Flinders Ranges near Beltana", between Parachilna and Leigh Creek.

The crew posted a photo on its Facebook page showing the car semi-submerged and on its side, warning other drivers to "stay safe by never driving through floodwater".

SES state duty officer Brenton Clarke said the driver had tried to cross a creek and was then swept away before SES crews were able to reach his remote location more than four hours later about 1am.

"It's probably waste-deep water, it was fast-flowing water," he said.

"The floodwaters had taken him about 80 metres down the creek.

"Fortunately he had an orange beacon … and that's how our crews were able to find him."

Mr Clarke said crews waded into the water and found the driver sitting on top of the vehicle, and were able to carefully move him to safety.

"They've waded into the water, into the creek, about 80 metres to this person," he said.

"He was sitting on the passenger side of his vehicle. His vehicle was in the floodwaters and caught up in a large gum tree which essentially stopped his vehicle from being washed further down."

Another eight people were rescued on Iron Knob Road, between Iron Knob and Whyalla, when a white van became submerged.

The SES retrieved two people from the van and another six people who were trying to help.

"A helicopter with a couple of our swift water technicians on board there — they were doing a reconnaissance flight and they actually came across the vehicle in the waters," Mr Clarke said.

"They've landed and essentially assisted the two people from the vehicle out of those waters and then some further people who had gone in to assist as well."

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the downpours were partly due to moisture left behind by ex-Tropical Cyclone Tiffany.

Senior meteorologist Paul Lainio said moisture had been "pouring in from the tropics" and was being drawn into a trough and "turned into rain and thunderstorms".

"It's very unusual for that humidity to push down into the southern states, and South Australia is one of the driest states," he said.

"Whenever you have such humidity, a thunderstorm might develop and you'll get localised heavy impacts."

Several warnings, including for severe thunderstorms and a flood watch, are current for parts of the state.

"We've seen seven all-time records up until this point through the Eyre Peninsula largely," Mr Lainio said.

"Falls of anywhere between, say, 80 to 90 millimetres to over 150mm in a 24-hour period. Those locations have never seen falls of that amount."

Cowell recorded 181mm, with 165mm at Buckleboo and 160mm in Kimba.

Other locations to set new records included Darke Peak, Mount Ive, Wirrulla and Cleve.

"We still have severe thunderstorm warnings, we still have flood watches out for large parts of South Australia, and over the next few days we're likely to see some of those warnings continue, so staying up to date with the warnings is very, very important," Mr Lainio said.

"Over the next few days, the trough will continue to affect South Australia, high humidity will remain, what we'll see is the storminess become more localised as the upper-level support drops away."

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