Port Stephens severe weather: Mop up begins after Nelson Bay, Williamtown rain records smashed in 'one-in-100-year-event'

DIG IN: Port Stephens SES volunteers filling sandbags in Raymond Terrace on Friday, March 19. Pictured, from left, is Jason Lichtwark, Zayne Phillips, Aidan Coulter and Levi Lewis. Picture: Marina Neil
DIG IN: Port Stephens SES volunteers filling sandbags in Raymond Terrace on Friday, March 19. Pictured, from left, is Jason Lichtwark, Zayne Phillips, Aidan Coulter and Levi Lewis. Picture: Marina Neil

Clean up and repair efforts were already under way in Port Stephens this week following six days of torrential rain that saw long-held rainfall records smashed, paddocks and homes flooded, a landslip in Nelson Bay and a section of Foreshore Drive in Corlette destroyed.

Port Stephens Council crews have begun work to fill potholes in roads across the local government area and are investigating when Teramby Road can be safely reopened after a section of the bushy bank near the fisherman's co-op slid onto the road.

Meanwhile, council engineers have begun to assess and work out repair options for Foreshore Drive after a section of the road, a culvert within the Mambo Wetlands, was washed away last Thursday.

"This road will be closed for a significant period of time as a new crossing will need to be investigated, designed and built," a council spokesperson said.

EcoNetwork Port Stephens, a community-based environmental and sustainability network, has called for a thorough review of Foreshore Drive's infrastructure and adjoining wetlands.

"Such a review is critical to ensuring that wetlands' long-term health, as well as public safety, are not further compromised by future impacts," EcoNetwork president Iain Watt said.

"In 2019 Port Stephens councillors unanimously voted to replace the culvert and install speed humps, signage and a bicycle pathway.

"Foreshore Drive was closed to traffic for several months during construction, yet no work was done to improve the culvert. So, of course with the first serious weather event... the culvert has been completely destroyed."

The network proposed that draining points between the wetlands and mangroves be further opened and linked with the estuary to reduce the risk of flooding.

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TEAM WORK: Rural Fire Service firefighters Cas Schmitzer (Fingal Bay), Tim Spencer (Anna Bay), Mick Cassar (Soldiers Point) and Tomaree SES member Malcolm Fenn filling up sandbags in Corlette on Monday. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

TEAM WORK: Rural Fire Service firefighters Cas Schmitzer (Fingal Bay), Tim Spencer (Anna Bay), Mick Cassar (Soldiers Point) and Tomaree SES member Malcolm Fenn filling up sandbags in Corlette on Monday. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Following record breaking rainfall, Port Stephens was one of 34 NSW council areas declared a natural disaster area and residents, businesses and primary producers that have been impacted by storm and flooding since March 10 can apply for government assistance.

The NSW Bureau of Meteorology forecast comes as welcome relief to the Port's NSW State Emergency Service, NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW crews who have been working around the clock since Thursday responding to calls for assistance and sandbagging homes.

Tomaree SES unit commander Maureen Phillpott said crews had responded to 245 calls for assistance on the Tomaree and Tilligerry peninsulas between Thursday and Monday. Most of those calls have been for leaking roofs and need for sandbags.

"This is event is different from the April 2015 superstorm. That event did bring with it a tonne of water but this is different. The rain just keeps coming. The worst thing that could happen now would be to get a wind storm. The trees are just saturated and could start falling over," she said.

Ms Phillpott said the Corlette-based SES unit, which has 35 members, would "not have survived" the past week without the help offered from the area's Rural Fire Brigades.

"They've been amazing," she said.

She also thanked parents of children who had dropped baked treats to the unit, businesses who have donated sand and members of the community who have volunteered their help.

On Monday, Corlette brothers and Tomaree High School students BJ, Ronnie and Thomas Akbal dropped into the SES unit and filled about 40 sandbags after school.

Ms Phillpott's advice for residents this week was to check their gutters and clean them out before the next downpour. She also urged the community to be patient with volunteers. "It's not fun being out there wet all day and night and have some people abuse you," she said.

Alysha Springett, incident controller of Port Stephens SES, said more than 50 members of the Raymond Terrace-based unit had been working day and night since Thursday to help residents with building and tree damage, sandbagging and animal rescues.

"We have taken hundreds of calls with the majority in the past 24 hours coming from Williamtown and Woodville areas. The crews have deployed all six flood boats and five vehicles to assist with animal rescue operations," she said on Tuesday, adding that there had been no forced evacuations. "However, we had to assist one family move out from their Williamtown property when water reached their home."

The Hinton community was spared of any major flooding with water from the swollen Paterson River reaching the back of the Hinton Hotel before receding.

Ms Springett said that the rains had come as a timely reminder for residents living in low-lying areas to remain vigilant, have a flood plan and to pack an emergency kit containing clothes, food and water in case of evacuation.

Parts of Raymond Terrace have been under water since Sunday after the Hunter River peaked at 2.69m around 4am. On Tuesday, the river was at about 2.16m and falling.

The boat ramp in Glenelg Street and low-lying areas in Hunter Street and Swan Street were still affected by localised flooding. Parts of Riverside Park plus the park and boat ramp under the Fitzgerald Bridge were also still under water.

Port Stephens Council urged the community to remain patient as the water receded and and repair works could begin.

"Please keep in mind there has been significant damage across our local government area and resources are stretched. We ask our community to please be patient as we work through extensive repairs to roads and drainage across Port Stephens over the coming days and weeks," a council spokesperson said.

"We want to thank all of our crews who have been working day and night to make our roads safe. Keeping our community safe is our top priority and we'll continue to work around the clock to respond to any issues."

The council was also urging motorists to not drive through flood water or move 'road closed' signs.

"Road closure signs are there for a reason. We take the safety of our community very seriously so please do not move signs from the road and remember to never drive through flood waters."

Port Stephens Council is also urging motorists to not drive through flood water or move 'road closed' signs.

Port Stephens Council is also urging motorists to not drive through flood water or move 'road closed' signs.

Port's rain records smashed in 'one-in-100-year-event'

Long held rainfall records were tumbled in Port Stephens and right across NSW during a "one-in-100-year" weather event the past week.

Unlike the intense but short-lived 2007 Pasha Bulker storm and the 2015 April Superstorm, the latest deluge was spread out over more than a week.

The Hunter's highest daily rainfall during the past week was recorded at Nelson Bay on Friday, March 19, when 202.5 millimetres fell.

While it didn't break the March 26, 1946, record of 217.7 millimetres, the town did smash its 107-year rainfall record, with 457 millimetres falling in the three days to last Saturday morning - the highest ever three-day total since records began at that location in 1889.

The Bay eclipsed long-standing multi-day rainfall records, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Meteorologist Dr Helen Kirkup said Nelson Bay also broke the two-day rainfall record with 252 millimetres falling in the 48 hours before 9am on Friday.

The weather station at Williamtown RAAF Base had on Tuesday recorded 416.8 millimetres of rain, eclipsing the March record of 398.5mm set in 1963.

Williamtown has soaked up more than 900 millimetres, almost a metre, of rain in the past four months.

Due to huge volumes of water in Williamtown, the runway shared by the RAAF base and Newcastle Airport was closed on Sunday evening until about midday on Wednesday.

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