The ground was already wet from record high summer rains. December and January delivered 404mm of rain here. The earth was saturated, filling any indent in the ground and running off.
As the summer drew to a close an atmospheric river poured rain in unbelievable amounts over south east Queensland. It just stayed there for days with the rain extending into northern NSW. We had almost 300mm during the five day period before the end of summer.
As it continued raining we had our first small flood.
The First Mini Flood
The Big Flood
The penultimate day of summer this weather system moved south crossing the state border into NSW. As the night came the rain increased. We went to bed with the rain pounding on the roof, all night.
Our largest regional city, Lismore, had no chance really. The scale of this rain hadn't been recorded ever before. The flood that followed raced down the hills and flooded the town with heights over two metres above the highest flood ever recorded. People relate a metre wall of water running through the streets. Houses, cabins, planes and cars were washed away.
Lismore is a flood town and is quite familiar with flooding. I have lived through previous floods there and watched in admiration as the town was flooded then within a day of the flood receding the shops were opening once again after cleaning out the mud and debris. They knew how to deal with floods. But not this one.
People, caught unaware from the night deluge were trapped in their houses, waking to find water in the house then frantically climbing onto their roofs in the dark to escape the rising flood waters. The authorities were all but missing and the locals came together in a flotilla of water craft rescuing hundreds of trapped people. Without this help many more people would have died that day.
We woke on this last morning of summer to pouring rain. We checked for flooding here and the water in the wetland was rising but only to the veggie garden so far.
Listening to the ABC radio the catastrophe in Lismore was unfolding. The rain had already dumped another 216mm on us here, nothing compared to the Lismore area but plenty to flood.
Prepare for Evacuation
We started putting in flood markers to judge the rising waters. It was rising fast now. We thought it might even threaten the house. The water continued to rise. We decided to prepare to evacuate the house. We had never seen water come as high as the house before. We are 40m above sea level and over a kilometre from the main creek. We started lifting things above the floor level to as high as we could and packed things to take with us. We had a safe exit up the hill to a neighbours place.
This was one of the most surreal days we have experienced. It was a shock to think our little house would be inundated. We had never thought this would happen.
By this time our small valley below was covered by many metres of brown flood water gradually rising up the hill towards us.
All along while packing we listened to the terrible news unfolding in Lismore and also the Tweed Valley.
The chook pen was now saturated and we let the chooks out to fend for themselves, collecting our mother hen and six chicks and taking them to the house for fear of them drowning. They spent much of the day in the bathroom ready to be evacuated with us.
The rain started to ease a little as the morning progressed and our flood markers revealed the rising water was gradually slowing.
(See our flood diary blog for more photos)
By late morning we breathed a sigh of relief as the flood waters had peaked and gradually began to fall.
We could hear the roar of the water from Whiteman Creek as the water tried to get away.
The weather system bringing the rain was predicted to move further south. Although the flood water was falling more rain would once again threaten us. We closely watched the weather forecast.
As the day wore on the relief grew as the flood water level continued to drop.
The water from the Lismore flood continued down the Richmond River in a path of destruction we had never seen before. Woodburn, Coriki, Cabbage Tree Island and Ballina all suffered their worst floods. Even on the Clarence, which wasn't as badly affected, Maclean's levee was nearly topped and had to have urgent bank repair due to faults appearing. Downstream the lower Clarence was flooded and Yamba was cut off for several days.
We have friends in the Lismore area. One friend had moved everything to their second floor before the flood but a 14 metre flood filled the second floor almost to the ceiling. They lost almost everything as did thousands of others. Many houses were so badly damaged they probably can't be repaired.
Others were cut off due to huge landslides. Another of our friends had a landslide come under the back door and go through into the house. The local people came together in a magnificent way to help each other.
At this stage the rain system abated and moved to sea dumping further rain on the coastal regions on the way.
The Lismore Disaster
As the days went by the disaster unfolded. Terry went north to Lismore to help our friends clean out their house and remove ruined plaster board walls. He came back stunned at the level of destruction.
This is Terry's account:
"OMG OMG OMG! The flooding destruction in Lismore and surrounds is unimaginable. I only saw a fraction of the devastation and am shocked at the shear volume and force of the water. How people are coping seeing this everyday would be beyond emotionally exhausting. We achieved what was required, ten able bodies removing all the wet gyprock from the house. Our friends life's possessions in a wet pile on the foot path. The entire street on both sides was impacted. A pile of life outside every home. The house immediately opposite had never ever flooded before and water went half way up into its top floor. Parts of the Summerland Way and Casino are a shocker as well. On arrival into Lismore from Casino, you're confronted with the visual of five smashed single engine aeroplanes. One twisted up in a tree. There is a mountain of dumped human possessions, flooded muddy cars strewn about. All those new cars from those car sale yards are muddy, pushed into each other, one had a boat crashed on top of it. And you’ve only just gone past Bunnings! As you go into the city it become much worse! As if that was possible! Like I mentioned, I only observed a small fraction of this disastrous event. It is the people who are the saviours for this town. There are people driving around offering food and water and even beer. There are a few free food and coffee places set up throughout the city. We had three tradies in a hire van from the Gold Coast ask if they could help. We were fine so they went next door to help. Horror stories coming out of the evacuation centres. These poor poor people have lost everything. Casino is a base as the airport there never flooded. Blaze Aid has set up as is the army which was arriving en mass when were were leaving to come home fortunate to escape! I’m exhausted just thinking back one day."
The rain continued to fall but the volumes were less. February recorded a record total of 636.5mm! Our average is 157mm.
As the flood waters receded here the mud covered the bush so that everything was a grey colour. Even when it rained again the mud was only partly washed off. The bush had changed.
As the month of March progressed it rained almost daily but fortunately without the huge totals. People went about their lives trying to pick up the pieces and clean their homes if they were still structurally sound. Thousands of people became displaced. A region with an already stretched housing problem is now desperate.
The ground remained totally saturated from the constant rain. Low lying areas still had water sitting in them. By the time a month had gone by since the big flood we had recorded another 277mm of rain making the two months almost a metre of rain.
The Second Big Flood in a Month
The weather bureau began to warn of more rain with troughs forming and combining to send rain back to south east Queensland and northern NSW. With everything so wet the rain would just run off. All the creeks and rivers were still high. As the rain continued everyone was on heightened alert.
Lismore was issued another flood warning and evacuation order.
We prepared for flooding again but a little better prepared this time. We moved the trailer into the car port ready to load the house contents on the trailer if necessary. It was still raining heavily.
By the last Tuesday of March the rain began to ease as the trough turned into a low and moved offshore. The forecast was that the system would move south. The all clear was issued for Lismore, allowing people to return to their homes. The flood didn't happen ... then.
We went to bed with the sound of rain but with the understanding the system was going south and out to sea. I slept quite well but Terry was up in the early hours. There was intense lightning and thunder throughout the night a little north of us and the rain kept coming.
When we got up in the morning at first light and turned on the radio we heard of the unthinkable. The low had moved back to the coast and dumped enormous amount of rain again. Lismore was under threat and our creek and wetland overflowed again inching up the hill. We had another 101mm of rain in the last 24 hours.
The ground is so wet the creeks and rivers responded quickly.
Our flood was small only making it to the veggie garden this time before starting to drop. Lismore wasn't so lucky and were forced to evacuate again. The following day as the water made its way down the river the flood topped the levee for the second time in just over four weeks.
Devastation again, thankfully not as bad but leaving the population stunned.
The low had moved across the land around Ballina and Byron Bay dropping massive amounts of rain on the coastal areas. Ballina was subjected to more flooding this time from the shear volume of water falling there. As the day progressed the rain eased as the low eventually went back out to sea and then south.
Months of Record Rainfall and the Bush Changes
By the time the month was over we had recorded 426mm of rain. For February and March combined we had 1063mm of rain. Adding in January we had over 1200mm of rain. Our annual average is 1148mm.
Writing this now in mid April the rain has abated somewhat and the sun has appeared from time to time. The wetland still rises and overflows regularly but the ground is finally starting to dry out. The creeks are still high. The bush has changed and the creeks have been scoured moving banks of sand and changing the bed of the creek.
These two images, taken from the same spot, show how the creek bed has been scoured and silted and the stream broadened. Notice how the sand bank on the left is completely missing. This has happened all along the creek.
Is it over yet?
La Nina is still with us as I write this and the rain is still hanging around. We all hope that we won't have anything like the rain we have had but mother nature has shown anything can happen. Two massive floods in a month emphasise this.
The droughts, the fires and the floods have always been with us but these events are becoming more common and more extreme.
For decades the science has told us about climate change and the extremes it would bring. We ignored it. Governments ignored it. It is real and in our faces now.
So is it over yet? No it is just going to get worse. We have to change.
North Coast Flood Appeal
Our hearts go out to those north of us who have lost so much. Everyone looks at rain with dread and some fear. The weather bureau says the rain hasn't stopped yet but we all hope it won't come back like it has.
If you wish to donate money to the flood affected people of the north coast of NSW there are a number of appeals available. The main ones are listed on the NSW government website.