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ABC Mid North Coast journalist Luisa Rubbo went from reporting on Port Macquarie floods to being evacuated from her home

By Luisa Rubbo, Tuesday April 6, 2021 - 00:50 EST
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ABC Mid North Coast journalist Luisa Rubbo providing a live update on the flood impact at Port Macquarie. - ABC

In my 20 years living and raising our family in Port Macquarie, on the NSW Mid North Coast, I have never seen the floodwater come so high around our house.

Our community has, of course, experienced floods before, but my neighbours who have lived on Port Macquarie's North Shore for more than 70 years say they've never experienced a flood this bad and certainly did not anticipate what was to come on the night of Friday, March 19.

Residents along the Hastings River typically live in two-storey houses and are prepared for water to come in to the first storey but not to this level.

It's been a familiar story in many other parts of NSW and Queensland that have been drenched in an unprecedented downpour.

I was working in the Port Macquarie office in the hours before the major flood inundated homes in towns along the Camden and Hastings rivers and parts of the Port Macquarie CBD.

The ABC was broadcasting local flood warnings half hourly and it was my job to assist the emergency broadcasting presenter Michael Spooner and file news stories to the network.

Michael and I were surprised at the speed at which three rivers that were being monitored by the Bureau of Meteorology went to major flood warnings.

And then two evacuation orders came through for residents in low-lying areas along the Camden, Haven and Hastings rivers to leave their homes by 8pm.

I quickly filed stories to the Sydney news desk and did an interview before heading out to shoot live TV crosses for the News Channel and 7pm news.

My colleagues and I did these from a road along the Hastings River.

At the time it wasn't underwater and the rain that had been falling for the last couple of days had stopped.

But we were stunned by how quickly the water rose ? before we knew it, it was up to our ankles.

After finishing the crosses, my 11-year-old daughter and I caught one of the last car ferry rides home to our North Shore house to be reunited with my teenage son.

I was so confident the water would come and go that I told my boss I'd be able to work the following afternoon.

The next morning, I was in shock and disbelief at the lake surrounding our home.

We had no power, water, poor mobile reception, and no access to town with the ferry wrapped around the boat shed on the other side of the river and the two roads north underwater.

In the brief moments when I had mobile service, I was surprised to see pictures of parts of the CBD flooded.

I felt helpless and guilty for not being able to be out reporting and managed to do a couple of radio crosses.

Some neighbours were getting around on kayaks on flooded streets, others were preparing for the water to come up again that night with talk of another couple of hundred millimetres of rain.

Although the water didn't come into our place, we still lifted belongings off the floor just in case.

Cut off and left to our own devices, neighbours looked after neighbours, sharing food which was quickly defrosting in freezers.

Then a mandatory evacuation order came through on Monday afternoon and oyster punts were used to get residents off the North Shore.

We walked through floodwaters with emergency services and onto rescue boats, imagining how devastated our neighbours along the river were.

Friends in town kindly put us up.

I was able to return to work and was back on the same road where we first did the live TV crosses, this time talking to residents while they were dragging their belongings out of their muddy homes and using hoses, brooms, and gurneys to clean up the mess.

Some had lost pretty much everything but they were immensely touched and grateful for the sunshine and boots on the ground in the way of the Army and firefighters and overwhelmed by the volunteers in the community who helped and the donations which were pouring in.

During the TV crosses I was able to talk about my North Shore community, which I could see still cut off coming up to a week after the flood.

They were waiting on a tug from Sydney to arrive to help get the ferry back in action.

By the end of the week, my daughter was missing home and me, so, with news from our neighbours that the power was back on at our place and that the pump for our tank water was miraculously working after being submerged, we headed home courtesy of the Army.

While crossing the river in boats, we were thrilled to see the ferry being tested, going backwards and forwards, but although I was expecting similar scenes to those in other parts of Port Macquarie, it was still devastating to see the impact of the flood on the North Shore.

Now that the ferry's back in operation, the piles and piles of belongings lined up along the streets can be removed along with the damaged cars.

I dare say few would have flood insurance but even that wouldn't cover the personal memorabilia and other irreplaceable items such as photos which would have been stored or moved downstairs because of the threat of bushfire just 18 months ago.

On the way home, we passed a neighbour going through wet boxes and she showed us a photo of her as a young mum ? faded in colour ? but you could still tell it was her.

The crisis is not over for Port Macquarie and Mid North Coast residents.

At present, estimates are that 2,000 residents in and around Port Macquarie have uninhabitable homes and require long-term alternative accommodation.

But what I love about the ABC is that we are local and this is our community and we'll be there long after the water recedes as people of Port Macquarie rebuild together.


© ABC 2021

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