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"Knowledge is power": No time for complacency

"I THINK occasionally people get complacent. They've been through so many floods they say 'yeah, we've seen them all'. But reality is they haven't."

Those were the words of Ulmarra SES controller John Leask as he told The Daily Examiner about the possibility of destructive floods in the future.

"History talks about major floods in the Clarence, back in 1900s or earlier and floods that aboriginals have been through that are worse than what we've seen," Mr Leask said.

"I think in a 1-in-a-100-year flood, we'd seriously be talking about loss of life."

The Coldstream River behind Ulmarra breaks its banks during rising floodwaters of the Clarence River on Saturday. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner
The Coldstream River behind Ulmarra breaks its banks during rising floodwaters of the Clarence River on Saturday. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner Debrah Novak

Four years ago flood waters breached the levee in Ulmarra and water gushed into the streets of the riverside town.

"There was a problem with (the 2013) flood," Mr Leask said.

"Normally if it's raining up in Tabulam or somewhere (to the north), we get three, four days warning. It gives you time to prepare.

"I was in town, there was a flood warning out and it looked like we'd escaped it. There was no need for evacuation from Ulmarra, everything had calmed down and from my recollection they even sent the specialist team back to Sydney.

"They didn't realise that a whole lot of water had fallen where there were no flood gauges, there were no warning signals.

"Thirty-five minutes later I got a warning that we're going through the evacuation of Ulmarra. It happened that quickly.

Residents of Ulmarra were preapring to sand bag on Saturday as a second flood was predicted to hit on Sunday. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner
Residents of Ulmarra were preapring to sand bag on Saturday as a second flood was predicted to hit on Sunday. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner Debrah Novak

"We went from not a problem to major problem in half an hour.

"Instead of having days, we had 18 hours from the time I got given the message to the time it was over the banks and that's very hard (when you're trying to prepare).

"It's very hard to manage but you just do the best you can."

Mr Leask said he'd never seen floodwaters move as quickly as they did during that event.

"I think (it was) the fastest flood we've ever seen," He said. "It came down like a ball of water, nothing in front of it and almost nothing behind it.

"No-one has ever seen a flood that fast."

Mr Leask said the Clarence Valley has so far been lucky in relation to floods.

"There are three main feeds here; Tabulam (Clarence River), the Mann (River) and Nymboida (River) and that comes all the way from Dorrigo," he said.

"All of our floods in recent years have only been from one of those feeds. The chance of a one-in-a-100-year flood is when two or three of those catchment areas get here all at the same time."

To make sure people are prepared, the SES is educating residents about when it's time to pack up and leave.

"We've been out to Tucabia and had an education night out there, there was one out in Lawrence and Michael Stubbs from Clarence Nambucca Region SES came out here," Mr Leask said.

"Knowledge is power. If you know where the water's going to go, you know how high it's going to be, all of a sudden the words come out that we're in for the big one, they know where to steer clear of.

"If we had a one-in-100- year flood, there should be no one left in town really."



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