Liz Jarvis, President Wingham Chamber of Commerce
It’s Saturday morning at 6 AM, I am looking forward to sleeping with all this rain we’ve had for weeks and then the phone rings. It’s my son, “Mum you better get down to the office and check, get your computers and files up high!”
Surely the water wouldn’t be coming to my office if it is that means many people around me are already flooded. Sure enough the water was higher than I’ve ever seen it.
People heading into the Main Street were having to be flagged down so that they didn’t drive into the water, you couldn’t see it in the dark. It’s quite surreal when you slowly start to realise how many people would be impacted.
And it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is when you’re a giver. I recall having the feeling of just wait, look after yourself first and where you are needed after that would reveal itself.
As the morning progressed it became apparent that today I would be wearing my Vinnies volunteering that hat. The reason, despite having stepped back from conference volunteering, I still held a key to the office which meant I could access the shop.
Across the road there was a bit of commotion as one of the shop owners realized no one had seen the fellow who lived at the back of the shop next door. He was still inside and needed assistance to get out the water had risen while he slept. Soon our local off-duty policeman, our fire brigade and SES we’re on hand to help this fellow to escape his flooded home.
Once that was done I spoke with the SES and advised that I had a key to Vinnies and asked how I could best help. It was then I discovered that the Evacuation Centre had been set up at the Golf Club and the best thing to do was head up there to see what they needed.
As I drove up to the Golf Club in front of me was a table top ute traveling very slowly with a lot of dogs on the tray and a person reassuring those dogs as they slowly made their way to the evacuation centre.
Although there were a lot of people at the evacuation center it seemed calm and well organized.
Our town Wingham was completely cut off from all in all directions. Fortunately we have locals that volunteer for Red Cross and employees of the Department of Justice and here they were doing what they trained for. Just over a year before they had been doing the same for Bush fire evacuees in a different evacuation centre.
The manager of our Vinnies Shop and the head of our Vinnies conference were cut off and unable to come to town to coordinate support for flood victims. We looked on helplessly as a number of businesses became inundated with water but there was nothing we could do until that water subsided.
Modern technology comes into its own in these emergencies. Facebook becomes a great tool to seek help and notify people. We have a Wingham noticeboard site to be used by any local only a year ago and it was a hive of activity during the flood.
However, the methods of the days of old were missed. We have no active police in our town and it seems that there was an expectation that people would know to evacuate, when in years of old locals would’ve door knocked. I spoke with someone who kept waiting for someone to tell them to leave but it was very telling that the water had to be in the house before it’s occupant was willing to leave.
I grow weary of the naysayers and those armchair critics who can always find fault in these situations. Instead, let’s celebrate how quickly our townsfolk, emergency services, Mid Coast Council and Outreach groups rallied to help those less fortunate and to get roads open in record time.
It will be a long time before anything is perfect in Wingham, but we are more fortunate than most.
Often the battle is that living in low lying areas the land is cheaper to buy in the first instance but these people are then badly affected at times like this, times of flood. For some I understand their homes were emptied by the Army of damaged stuff as they weren’t home, and so the grieving process didn’t take it’s course leaving them feeling even more vulnerable than ever.
As President of the Chamber of Commerce I was proud to see business helping business and their customer communities pitching in as well. We used Facebook communities to spread the word as various things unfolded. Through Mid Coast Community Outreach businesses outside the area donated office furniture and equipment.
Wingham has a population of around 5,000 people, I am guessing about 100 homes were affected with maybe 50 seriously damaged. No one expected it to get so high - in our town it’s the creeks and storm water backing up that are the problem. It’s particularly bad if the excess water combines with a high tide which is what happened that day.
There was fear that it would peak again even higher at the next high tide but fortunately the heavy rain fell away from the particular catchment that feeds Cedar Party Creek.
Winghams shopping precinct lost power, meaning cafes and Granty’s Fruit and Vege had to ditch all perishables. Granty’s was quick thinking and donated all their milk, lovely yoghurts etc to the Evacuation Centre, so nothing went to waste and it was very much appreciated.
The most seriously affected by water were locally owned businesses. Celebrations Liquor store, The Hay Shed, a produce store, Body Strength Health and Fitness, a personal training studio.
Of course our farmers are businesses too. Their disruption and damage is immense. ABC TV shared a story about a dairy farm across the Bight bridge that lost 20 or so of their carefully reared replacement heifers.
Many members of our community are back on their feet quickly, but it will be months before some of the homes can be properly repaired.
This story about the Hay Shed is very poignant, and Liz took the reporter for a tour of the devastation
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