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Mid North Coast flood devastates Telegraph Point Public School, students relocated

By Luisa Rubbo, Tuesday April 27, 2021 - 00:00 EST
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Telegraph Point Public School students have been temporarily relocated to a school in nearby Port Macquarie. - ABC

The damage caused to the Mid North Coast's 145-year-old Telegraph Public School is a bitter blow to the community, but principal Duncan Adams says the "best story" is that no-one was hurt when it was flooded last month.

It's been more than five weeks since the devastation, but Mr Adams's students are still catching the bus to Port Macquarie to attend school at a temporary facility while repair works continue.

Mr Adams made an early call on March 19 to evacuate his 130 students and staff as the waters from the Wilson River began to encroach on the school grounds.

"We were watching the floodwaters rise and essentially, in the end, there was 2.3 metres of water ? a wall of water ? that went through the school," he said.

"Around 11 o'clock, even though we were at low tide, we were pushing 1.9 metres.

"We got the go-ahead to start to evacuate the students.

"The last child left here at about 2.15pm.

"That's the best story ? we got all the kids out, the staff out, everyone was safe."

Once the floodwaters receded, the damage to the school could be assessed.

"Essentially there's not a lot left," Mr Adams said.

"We're left with a little bit of memorabilia, but the school infrastructure, the buildings ? everything's been stripped out."

Swift action praised

The neighbouring Telegraph Point Sports and Recreation Club was used as an evacuation centre during the crisis and volunteer manager Pam McArdle said Mr Adams's timely decision prevented a flood of a different kind.

"We had nine dogs here and I think there was about 18 of us," she said.

"The only thing I can be thankful for is that the school had been evacuated early, otherwise we would have had up to 140 children in this building."

The club recently reopened after everything was lost on what Ms McArdle described as a nightmare day.

"It was about three o'clock, 3:03pm actually," she said.

"I walked outside and I noticed a couple of the neighbours running up the street ? I thought they were being silly.

"I noticed they were chasing stuff and things were floating away.

"I ran back in the club and I said 'Come on guys, they need help ? they're going under over the road.'

"We got them all out of their places because the water was rising fast, brought them all back to the clubhouse by 4:06pm.

"So in a matter of one hour and three minutes the club was under ? we were in a metre of water.

"Devastating, totally devastating."

'I'm proud of the little school'

Harry Bollard, his twin sister Grace and their younger brother Ollie were picked up at the school after the decision to evacuate was made.

"It was pretty scary because the tide was rising and everything was changing," Harry said.

Their father Doug Bollard said the family's property was affected, but not their house or infrastructure.

"We were never worried about our house, but certainly it was a traumatic thing to watch and for our neighbours to go through," he said.

"Our direct neighbours lost their houses and that's really tough to watch and see."

Mr Bollard said it would take years to get everything back to normal, but he was heartened by the way the community banded together.

"I'm proud of the little school, ?I think the staff have managed to do quite a complex job of changing over in a relatively simple way," he said.

"They've made it look easy."

Mr Bollard said his children had settled into their new school well.

"I think they are very resilient and just moving on like kids do," he said.

"We could probably learn some lessons from them."

Demountable classrooms have been placed at the Telegraph Point School.

It is hoped students will be able to return within weeks.


© ABC 2021

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