Weather News

Hawkesbury River community threatened by fires and floods works on emergency plan

By Sofie Wainwright, Wednesday May 5, 2021 - 04:20 EST

"Forgotten" residents living on the Hawkesbury River are often cut off physically and technologically when natural disasters strike, so they are working with organisations to improve their preparedness and resilience. 

Within the past 18 months, Spencer and surrounding areas have been threatened by fire and twice affected by floods.

"We do feel very neglected here," resident Ian Miller said, sitting at the hamlet's general store.

"It's sort of the land that time forgot.

"People don't believe that you live 35 or 40 kilometres as the crow flies from [North] Sydney."

Local Robyn Downham said residents were used to looking out for each other due to their geographical isolation, but she felt the ageing community deserved greater access to information and services during and after disasters, including the fires in 2019.

"I was so enraged and I never want to be in a situation like that ever again where I feared for my life," she said.

Ms Downham helped establish the group River Cares, which aims to enhance the safety and wellbeing of people living in remote pockets of the Lower Hawkesbury River district.

Phone problems

Residents say when Spencer's power goes out, the satellite tower's battery dies hours later.

Generators guzzle through fuel to keep food fresh and pumps moving to deliver drinking water.

"When you're cut off, you can't drive up to the mountain to get fuel ? they can't get through the swollen creeks," Ms Downham said.

"We have very limited internet and the mobile coverage is restricted due to the topography of the area.

"If we lose power ... then we have no way of communicating within the community or outside."

Telecommunication troubles were echoed by people living in other river communities at a hearing of the federal parliamentary inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfire season last month.

Groups helping river communities

Since the fires, River Cares has formed new and stronger connections with a range of community, emergency and government organisations to help them improve the region's disaster preparations, response and recovery.

They are brainstorming ideas such as sourcing satellite phones, fuel supplies ahead of disasters and an evacuation centre.

Ms Downham said Colin Lynch, a welfare coordinator for the NSW Department of Communities and Justice Disaster Welfare Unit, had been particularly helpful in developing a community emergency management plan.

Mr Lynch said he spent a few days "absorbing" himself in Spencer during the floods in March.

"We faced the same isolation issues ? telecommunications were difficult," he said.

"For the first two days, we had to arrange for [the Rural Fire Service] to help us get fuel in for people and within about four days I think we were able to get food in.

"There is a drain and anxiety among people when you speak to them.

"They continually revert back to the fires and the floods, and particularly the fires that were quite frightening and many people haven't got quite over that yet out here.

"We're hoping this engagement ... and letting them know that while they may have felt alone once before, they're not alone ... will help."

The Central Coast Council has also been assisting and confirmed it was investigating installing flood markers at more nearby creeks.


© ABC 2021

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