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Volunteers reflect on Hunter Valley's Pasha Bulker storm 10 years on

Robert Virtue, Wednesday June 7, 2017 - 12:41 EST
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Jet ski riders on Nobbys Beach, Newcastle, are dwarfed by the MV Pasha Bulker after it ran aground. - ABC

It has been 10 years since the New South Wales Hunter region was lashed by an intense storm and flood which cost nine lives and damaged thousands of properties.

It was a natural disaster that made international news, synonymous with the image of a large ship, the MV Pasha Bulker, stuck on Newcastle's Nobbys Beach, where it remained for three weeks before being re-floated.

Emergency workers from the police, ambulance, and fire services worked to help people in need.

Across the Hunter, volunteers with the State Emergency Service (SES) were integral during the disaster, donning their high-vis orange uniforms and spending weeks in the field evacuating homes, rescuing people, and clearing debris.

Here we meet some of the volunteers who helped 10 years ago.

Graeme Silver, Newcastle SES



On the morning of the storm, with the bad weather setting in, Graeme Silver was driving into work with a sense of trepidation.

"I had a look around and thought 'this isn't good'," he said.

"I really felt that we had something going on, and that was in the early hours of the morning.

"Around 10 o'clock, I thought 'someone needs to throw the flag up about this'; it was really starting to worry me, and I started to see things that were just abnormal.

"A lot of damage around, a lot of trees down … I noticed there was a lot more [traffic] than I'd expect, and I looked at it as though even the SES should be activated at this time.

"I was just wondering why nothing had occurred, nobody had called us."

After finishing work at 11pm, Mr Silver had a few hours' rest, then joined his SES colleagues in the Newcastle control centre in the role of deputy controller.



"We started to get an idea of the scope of the work, how much we had going on and how widespread it was," Mr Silver said.

"It was just so widespread; I've never seen it [that bad]. The extent of damage was just phenomenal; it was even in areas we've never done work before."

Over the course of the emergency, nine people died.

Mr Silver said the emergency crews had to do what they could to avoid further tragedies, while still supporting the community.

"You're looking at what you can do for others," he said.

"We did have some loss of life; it was extremely unfortunate.

"For want of another word, you push on. You're just trying to avoid another one if you can.

"We did have a close call with a couple of our own members on that night; when I found out about it, that was a bit hard to take. They didn't get hurt or anything, but they were very close."

Mr Silver said while the severity of the 2007 storm caught the community by surprise, in the decade since, people have become more observant and attuned to severe storm warnings.

Chris Wardle, Maitland SES



When the storm hit in June 2007, Chris Wardle was 23 and relatively inexperienced with the SES.

At the time, he was at home in Merewether and had to get to the SES's headquarters at Rutherford.

A journey that would normally take 45 minutes became much longer, as the heavy rain, flash flooding and strong winds set in.

"It was very daunting [driving] because it took a while with the number of detours, the amount of water on the roads. I pulled a couple of cars out of floodwater on my way through," he said.

Mr Wardle said he had initial worries about his family's safety.

"I knew they were in the affected areas," he said.

"When I realised they were all fine, I was just hoping and praying I could get up to my headquarters.

"[My family] understood that I'm playing an important role, so I did what I had to do.



"I just switched off from family and then started concentrating on community and safety. We do what we can."

Initially there was the storm, and then came the flood.

For three weeks straight, Mr Wardle worked 12 to 15-hour days.

"My job was everything from flood watch to evacuations, rescues, roof damage, pretty much everything," he said.

"Adrenaline kicks in a lot. We do a lot of training to prep ourselves for those sorts of conditions.

"From as little as climbing onto a roof, to flood rescue, pretty much a lot of it can be dangerous — that's why we take our safety precautions and do all our training."

In the decade since the disaster, Mr Wardle's life has changed considerably. He now has children, but remains with the SES.

"I like to help out my community," he said.

"I enjoy it because I've made a lot of new friends; those friends in the organisation have opened up doors to job prospects.

"Plus I do it knowing that I'm out there helping, and you get really good peace of mind knowing that you're doing something good."

Allan Watson, Maitland SES



Allan Watson has been in the SES for 43 years.

When the June 2007 storm hit the Hunter, he was in the role of team leader, and oversaw a crew of five people.

"We didn't know what it was going to be like, it just came," he said.

"[There was] a lot rain, wind, gusts up to 80, 90 kilometres per hour.

"First of all we were called to Lake Macquarie about six o'clock in the night, then two hours later we were all called back to Maitland.

"We were doing storm work for about a week, and then it turned into a flood operation."

During the emergency, Mr Watson worked 15 days straight. They were long days in tough conditions.



"We were starting at six, going till nine, then getting back up and going out at six o'clock in the morning," he said.

"I just made sure I ate properly, drank properly, got as much sleep as I could."

Mr Watson said in the decade since the storm, the way the SES responded to large emergencies had improved.

"They're a lot better; they do pre-warnings now, and that helps a lot," he said.

"That helps us a lot too because if anything happens, we know we can start getting stuff ready if we have to.

"I've been in it for 43 years, so I'm pretty proud doing what I do, helping people.

"A lot of things happened [in the 2007 storm]; a lot of people got hurt, a few people died and it's good to remember all of them and everybody else who suffered with all the damage."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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