What a night . . . a decade on, Gary Maloney reflects on Coffs Harbour?s storm disaster.
What a night . . . a decade on, Gary Maloney reflects on Coffs Harbour?s storm disaster.

Night of the tempest


AS Gary Maloney helped his mate move into the Coffs Village Caravan Park, he was oblivious to the calamity which was about to unfold.

The same park would later be transformed into a raging torrent after a massive storm lashed the city.

The tempest moved in without warning for hapless emergency crews, residents and business owners.

Mr Maloney, who was the Coffs Harbour SES local controller, says it didn't start sprinkling until late afternoon, and he remembers the first call for help coming in at 5.30pm.

"It was a bloke on a property north-west of Coffs Harbour. His dam was overflowing because of intense rain and it was going to flood his home. He wanted 60 sandbags," Mr Maloney said.

More and more distressed residents started phoning in, and he knew he had a situation on his hands.

Mr Maloney marshalled all of the troops he had at his disposal to handle the increasing number of flooding, roof and tree jobs which came their way.

As the rain continued to merci- lessly pelt down, the floodwaters continued to rise.

"By 8.30pm, it was quite obvious there was going to be a flood, so we switched personnel into evacuating residents in the Korff, Robin and Gundagai street areas.

"Saving lives was our priority.

"All these houses had flooded in 1991 and 1992 and I knew they were about to go under. However, some people wouldn't leave their homes.

"By 9.30pm we were into major evacuation mode when the Village Caravan Park was flooding. Caravans were getting washed away."

Luckily, the SES headquarters from where Mr Maloney was coordinating the mammoth operation in Park Avenue, maintained phone lines and power supplies, unlike the police, fire and ambulance stations.

The magnitude of the disaster overwhelmed emergency crews to the extent the SES was unable to respond to all calls for assistance, frustrating many residents.

"One of the things I'll never forget was when everyone had knocked off and gone home and the sun was coming up, John Smith (the mayor) walked in through the back gate. He asked me what had happened. I told him, and he couldn't believe it."

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