‘We were whacking brown snakes with towels’: Fears and tears after floods

ABOVE: Cath Gregg with her bluey, Rosie in Richmond Tce. She is waiting for floodwaters to subside so she can get home. Photos: Susanna Freymark

Susanna Freymark

On Monday, February 28, the weather was bad in Coraki. The rain kept falling and the river kept rising.

Coraki is a town that is used to floods.  

Catherine Gregg said everyone was talking about the 1974 flood.

“Locals told me to raise everything six feet up,” she said.

Cath kept a lot of tools underneath her house raised up high on stilts. It is the last house in a row of houses facing the river on Richmond Tce.

By 4.30pm, it was getting serious, Cath said.

“The water was up to the third step of the house.”

Cath wasn’t home alone. Her children’s godfather Steve Edwards from Jiggi was there with her. Cath’s three children aged 18, 16 and 19 had been evacuated.

Cath and Steve decided to stay at the house with the four dogs.

Cath lives next door to her parents. Their house is level with the ground. The dirty floodwater mark, two thirds the way up the side of the house, shows how high the water was. The house had only recently been repainted.

Cath’s parents had already been evacuated.

It was 5pm and it was clear to Cath and Steve, they were in a dangerous situation.

They had to get out. The waters were deep and the current was strong.

They could see the brown waters swirling around the house.

A man from the SES waded down to the house.

He was in the water up to his chin as he followed the fences to my house, Cath said.

He instructed her to come down the steps.

She was scared and each step she took into the cold water was scarier.

“When I went down the bottom of the stairs, I feared for my life,” she said.

“The man from the SES told me to hang onto his hoodie and follow him.”

I kept apologising for waiting so long to leave, Cath said as she clung to the man and walked on tiptoe through the freezing water.

Together, they made it to the top of the road and to the evacuation centre.

Steve was back at the house with the dogs waiting for a boat.

“I couldn’t leave my dog Ted,” Steve said.

Steve’s wife Trish died of cancer two years ago and Ted is named after the both of them. Steve waited with Ted and the other dogs, Rosie, Sadie and Dog.

The SES tinnie rescued Steve and the dogs.

When he got to the evacuation centre, it was full.

“It was like walking over dead bodies,” Steve said.

Steve Edwards holds up a dead brown snake near the bowling club.

Steve and Cath are camped across the road from Cath’s house waiting for the water to drop.

They have a van and tarps and on Saturday they were given food and a stove to cook on.

“I haven’t cried for years,” Steve said.

Before then, they had made do with very little, even making coffee by boiling water on a fire in a cut-down Coke can.

It is more peaceful camping out. But there are brown snakes. Steve holds up a dead one.

Up the street by the evacuation centre, Cath said there were so many they were “whacking them with towels”.

Cath, like the many Coraki residents waiting for floodwaters to subside, just wants to get home.

Then she’ll be helping her parents clean up their house.

“They’ve lost cats and chooks, and a boat,” Cath said.

Their family is coming down from Queensland in the next few days to help with the clean-up.

There is shock, people tell their flood stories, sometimes speaking too fast, other times crying.

The force of the floodwaters as they burst the Richmond Rivers banks have marked the lives and flood history of Coraki forever.

Cath Gregg’s neighbour is getting around in a kayak and is using a shovel as a paddle.
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