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Facebook 'friends' help Luke crowdsource a path across floods to attend his daughter's birth

Donna Harper and Liz Keen, Friday February 21, 2020 - 14:20 EDT
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Luke had to crowdsource to get across three flooded rivers to get to Rebekah. - Audience submitted

A New South Wales man's desperate journey through the state's flooded north to witness the birth of his daughter has taken the old adage 'it takes a village to raise a child' to the next level.

Luke Palmer and his partner Rebekah Soanes were in Coffs Harbour on February 10 preparing for the planned caesarean delivery of their baby on Valentine's Day.

With what he thought was a little more time to spare, Mr Palmer decided to leave Ms Soanes in Coffs and head home to Kremnos to do some work on the house.

But by the next day he found himself flooded in.

"I knew it had been raining earlier but there had been no problems with the nearby creeks being flooded," Mr Palmer said.

The waterways rose quickly in the torrential rain and Mr Palmer became worried he was going to miss the main event.

"I was stressing out and so was Bek," he said.

"We were concerned I wouldn't make it back in time for our daughter's birth."

Crowdsourcing an answer

Mr Palmer appealed to the State Emergency Service (SES), but it was inundated with calls and could not provide assistance.

So he put out a message on the Glenreagh community Facebook page asking for support to get him through flooded areas to his pregnant wife.

"The response was overwhelming — more than 170 comments," Mr Palmer said.

"I had complete strangers offering to help me. Something I will never forget."

Different community members had agreed to meet him on the bank of each creek and drive him to the next destination.

But how was Mr Palmer to get there?

Being a surfer, he decided to grab his board and paddle across three swollen creeks — against all advice to never enter floodwater.

The major cause of death during floods is from people entering or travelling through floodwater.

"I surfed across the first waterway, which is Scarlets Creek," he said.

"It's a small waterway but was two metres deep with the rain and a 150-metre paddle across."

His neighbour, Rob, met him at the first crossing.

Michelle, a complete stranger, picked him up between Scarlet and Flaggy Creeks.

She dropped him off at the next crossing and called her friend Mick.

Mick, another stranger to Mr Palmer, waited for him to safely cross the waterway and then drove him 100 metres to the next creek.

Alison, someone unknown to Mr Palmer, also contacted him via Facebook and drove him to Nana Glen where a friend of Mr Palmer was waiting to take him to Coffs Harbour.

"The worst creek was Flaggy Creek as it had a stronger current, but I did calculated paddles to get across it," he said.

I'm just glad I didn't see any snakes or logs in the water as I would have been paddling a lot faster."

Community spirit on show

Advice from the NSW SES, and every emergency service in the country, is abundantly clear — never enter floodwater. If it's flooded, forget it.

Mr Palmer did worry about his safety before he approached the flooded creeks.

"I wasn't going to risk my life, but obviously I wanted to be there for my wife and child," he said.

Janet Pettit of the North Coast SES said she understood the reasons why Luke needed to get to his pregnant partner, but urged people not to do it for safety reasons.

"Whilst it was very gallant of Luke to do that we strongly urge people not to because there are so many dangers of crossing those flooded causeways that he crossed," Ms Pettit said.

"They make look calm on the surface, but there's often strong currents underneath that people aren't aware of. So please just don't do it.

"There could also be submerged branches or wires that you could get caught up in and you could drown."

Much to the relief of his partner, Mr Palmer got to the hospital in time to see the birth of his daughter, Florence Dale Palmer.

"Florence obviously doesn't do things by halves," her proud father joked.

"When she grows up, Bek and I will tell her this story — dubbed by the locals 'The Orara Relay'."

Ms Soanes thanked all those whose "response was amazing and we would like to thank everyone for making our Valentine's Day so special".

"The community spirit in helping get Luke here for me and bubs was an incredible effort," she said.

"We also think Florence is awesome."


© ABC 2020

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