Reliving the March 2009 floods
MARCH 31, 2009, is not a date I will forget in a hurry.
It rained all day – relentless rain that just kept coming – in sheets, in mists, in waterfalls.
But I was high and dry at my computer until 3.30pm when a damp chief photographer Trevor Veale came back to the office to gather up a journalist to join him as water began pouring through the centre of the city.
By the time we swung around the elbow in Elbow Street driving away from the office about 4pm, we could see cars at the back of Creek Towers disappearing in the rising water.
And by the time we drove down Frances Street towards Gundagai Street it was like a war scene – a stream of refugees were wading up the side of the street carrying bundles and suitcases, leading and carrying small children in their arms. Wheelybins, furniture and household goods were floating past and dogs and chooks had been lifted on to verandas, beds and tables so they wouldn’t drown.
By the time we got to Robin Street we were soaked to the hips, our shoes were long discarded and my notebook was so wet the ink was running; the pages were sticking together and the names of half the people I spoke to were illegible.
Trevor had disappeared, the current was running so strongly down Robin Street I was worried it would pull him under and I was trying to phone emergency services to check on my 86-year-old mother-in-law and her elderly neighbours in Gundagai Place.
After experiencing her second flood in 13 years, she was among those eventually rescued in a tinnie launched by a nearby West High Street resident.
Back in Gundagai Street, two brave men were swimming and wading shoulder high from house to house checking for elderly residents in trouble.
All that could be seen of the tradie truck belonging to a grandfather who had tried to pick up his granddaughter from school was the ladder strapped on the top.
Cars were marooned and stalled everywhere, making movement increasingly difficult.
With the water still rising, Trevor pushed through a flooded road in the wake of a big 4WD to get us back to the city centre. We finally had to abandon the little office car on the swimming pool footpath and wade back to the Advocate.
With the power cut off, no lights and the computers running on the emergency diesel generator, I wrung the water out of my shirt, shed my slacks and sat on a plastic bag in wet knickers and a spare jumper to write my stories by the light of the screen and the exit signs, while the photographers swivelled the spare computer screen to light their work.
Photographer Bruce Thomas got cut off taking photos on the southern side of the city in the morning but managed to get home to Sawtell then back to the office during a lull in the downpour with everything off the Pacific Highway under water, cars skidding and crashing in the downpour and residents rescued at North Bonville and South Boambee.
When page designer Tom Wainwright headed back to work after lunch at 2pm, his Loaders Lane home of two months was high and dry, but by the time he was able to return at 8pm, it was what his children call ‘the mud house’ with three-quarters of his possessions ruined.
He now lives high on a hill, out of reach of the water.
A year later, he is still angry that the city council blamed residents for the 350 trucks of rubbish taken out of the creeks when so much had actually been put out for a council clean up.