RRT Assistance after Hunter Valley Storm
Monday night, the 20th of April 2015, strong wind and driving rain whipped through the suburbs of The Hunter. Without any warning the storm hit, flooding the streets and leaving thousands of houses without power. Wind gusts were recorded of up to 135km/hr, uprooting huge trees and tearing down fences.
The following morning the sheer strength of the wind and rain was clearly seen – many cars were crushed under huge trees … but the worst was yet to come. As the wind died down, the rain took over. Newcastle received over 200mms of rain, Maitland received over 277mm and Dungog was completely surrounded by water and isolated for days. Houses, people and cars were being swept away by the raging water.
All this chaos led to the State Emergency Service (SES) to receive well over 8,000 calls. By Wednesday they had received 7984 jobs and conducted 90 flood rescues. The SES were working alongside of the Rural Fire Service which had about 800 firefighters and 200 fire trucks all responding to the ongoing needs. The emergency situations ranged from flood rescues, serious road accidents with people trapped to trees down and building collapses.
The RRT immediately mobilised by preparing the volunteer teams and the RRT trailer for anything required. After the violent weather started to subside the area’s teams sprang into action.
Throughout Thursday the RRT was engaged in drive throughs of flood affected areas and areas without power in the Lake Macquarie region. Many had been without power for several days, with rescue services working to remove trees and restore power. The RRT crew was checking that people were safe and had ample food and drink. While talking with residents in the Blackalls Park area who had been without power for 3 days the crew were told about an accommodation house in Booragul where the 8 disabled residents had been without power for 3 days. We visited the house to discover that the staff, which was doing a wonderful job under the circumstances (reduced to heating water on a small butane stove for cups of tea), were in need of a hot meal, some power for the fridge and television. We used the generator to give them some power and then arranged some RRT members to deliver a hot meal for the residents. This very gratefully received! 2 members of the RRT monitored the generator through the night to ensure it ran smoothly until power was restored.
Staff at the home also informed the RRT of an elderly couple who lived in a neighbouring suburb. They are the parents of one of the residents and had not been in contact for three days. A team member called on the couple to check on their welfare and discovered that all was fine – they were getting by with a butane burner and solar powered lighting!
SES Boolaroo Depot then requested RRT to supply a meal for 150 + people on the following day so Thursday evening was spent planning this event.
Friday morning the trailer was set up at the SES Headquarters Boolaroo. SES lent their main shed for the meal, along with a BBQ and tea and coffee facilities.
By 10:30am all team members were assembled at an oval just down the road and ferried to the site in a van in order to minimize cars on site as the street. The meal included sausages, onion, bacon and cheese on a roll with sauces, tea and coffee, muffins, Anzac biscuits, little chocolates and cold drinks.
Over the course of the next 3.5 hours a total of 167 SES, NSWFB and RFS personnel were served. They arrived by the crew load, travelling from many different work sites in the Lake Macquarie area to the base for a meal.
The meal was well received by everyone including the crews visiting from other areas (especially the Blue Mountains) had heard of RRT.
As the crew numbers slowly dwindled with just a few more crews to come in a local resident was also got a meal. She was on her way home to her home nearby and hadn’t had power or a hot meal for 3 days. She was delighted to receive a sausage sandwich – even asking if she could take a sausage for her dog that was at home waiting for lunch!!
On Friday afternoon the RRT were asked to put on another lunch for Saturday with the SES requesting steak on a roll with accompanying salad for 150+ at the same time and place.
By Saturday the SES and Fire Fighters were mentally and physically exhausted. The RRT with the aid of the trailer put on an extra special lunch (it was also ANZAC Day) consisting of scotch fillet Steaks, bread rolls, cheese, bacon, onion, lettuce, tomato and beetroot. With some careful planning and experienced cooks the steaks were cooked on a ‘Just in time’ basis ensuring that each of the hard worked Emergency Services personnel received a hot fresh steak straight off the BBQ. The RRT fed up to 200 men and woman that day with 13 RRT members.
One of the amazing features of these times is how the community pulls together. Several food stores kindly donated food for this event and others provided food at discounted prices.
With only very positive feedback flowing from the SES and Fire Fighters and many coming back for second and third helpings the RRT would like to take the opportunity to thank those who dedicate their life in helping others in times of need, and to extend our sympathy to friends and family of those who passed away during the storm.