As floodwaters inundate the New South Wales mid-north coast, residents are scrambling to take stock of the damage and prepare for the rising tide.
Horses and livestock were seen floating along rivers and washing up on beaches on Sunday, as the region faced a once in a lifetime deluge.
Greg Cox, who lives in Raymond Terrace north of Newcastle, was watching the water slowly rise around his property on Sunday morning.
“Once the water comes through … we just have to grin and bear it,” he said.
“The only thing we can do is to lift everything high off the ground, especially the more valuable stuff. We’ve put stuff on top of my ute, and on top of the beds, but that’s all we can really do.”
“At this stage, I would say we’re going to have water coming through the downstairs part of the house by this afternoon, when the tide comes in.”
The rain has battered the region for days, with the Bureau of Meteorology warning that another 100mm of rain could fall on Sunday.
The Bom has already issued 14 flood warnings across the state, including a major flood warning at the Hawkesbury River at North Richmond, and the State Emergency Services have responded to thousands of callouts as floodwaters continue to surge.
Cox said he had to walk through water to get to his car so he could drive into town and buy some supplies.
“I think it could get a whole lot worse before it gets any better,” he said. “It’s pouring rain here now, and it’s predicted to keep that up in the next 48 hours.
“It’s devastating. Our whole backyard is underwater, I’ve never ever seen anything like this, and I was speaking to my landlord today and he also said he’d never seen anything like this before.”
Alistair Flower, a businessman and hotelier from Port Macquarie, told Guardian Australia he and his staff had been working hard to protect one of his venues.
“We’ve seen that the water is rising, and unfortunately the flooding has gotten into the basement and the bottle shop at our premise,” he said.
“We’ve had great work from the SES and my staff, who’ve been able to pump some water out, but it felt like a bit of a losing battle at times.”
Flower owns the Hastings Hotel in Wauchope, which is near the centre of town, and he said he never thought he’d see the water rise above the intersection.
“Talking to a lot of regulars, they tell us this has surpassed the last great flood in the 60s. I think this has surpassed everything.”
Flower, whose home is on the Hastings River, said he saw a cow come floating through, saved only by his neighbour’s infinity pool.
“I went out to our jetty, and looked back on our neighbour, and it looked like a cow had floated down the river.
“Thankfully, they had an infinity pool, which doesn’t have a fence line in front of it, allowing the cow to come in.
“I think that cow was one of the lucky ones, unfortunately there’s been quite a bit of loss of livestock recently.”
The loss of livestock has been so great that a Facebook group has been established to help people find their lost animals.
The Mid North Coast horse/livestock flood recovery! group current has over 2,000 members, with people posting images of floating livestock and rescue stories amid the deluge.
The admins on the page hope it will be be “a place to post any livestock dead or alive to help owners locate or have peace of mind”.
Flower said he believed he knew who the cow belonged to, but because they were isolated and struggling with the flooding some council rangers were working to take it home.
Flower said the community had been taken by surprise by the intensity and speed of the rain and flooding, and that they weren’t as prepared as they could’ve been.
“We were very surprised. Just like everybody else, we weren’t expecting to see a once-in-100-year storm, and the biggest flood of our time. And I think the whole community was surprised by this – the rains really came very quickly.
“One thing about the Port Macquarie community is that their support and engagement is second to none. And everybody’s rallying together, as we’ll see over the next couple of weeks.”
For Sarah Soars and Joshua Edge, the flooding and rain came on a day they were hoping to always remember, but it was a day they’ll never forget it for more tragic reasons.
They had to watch their home, with their pets inside, being swept away by flood waters on the day they had planned to wed.
The couple, who are currently separated in Taree and Tinonee respectively, told Channel Nine’s Today Show they were devastated by their loss.
“Watching our home float past was devastating, we lost everything. Our little dog was in the house,” Edge said “We loved all our animals, the pain that they had to go through, I don’t want to think about it. She [the dog] would have been so scared.”
“The force of that river was unbelievable, to lift our home, it’s just unbelievable.
“We’ve got nothing, my brother has given me clothes.
“All I wanted to do was get married to Sarah.”
Soars said their home was lost in only a “matter of minutes” and that she could hardly believe it had happened.
“Not even ten minutes and it was out of our sight,” she said on the Today show.
“I’m lost for words, I don’t even know what to say, everything we own everything we’ve worked hard for: gone.”
Edge’s brother, Lyle, has set up an online fundraiser for the couple, which surpassed its target of $30,000 in only a matter of hours.
The flooding in the New South Wales mid-north coast comes just a year after the region was devastated by bushfires, with hundreds of homes lost and millions of animals killed.
January 2020 was Australia’s hottest month on record in Australia, with average national temperatures nearly a degree beyond the previous benchmark and 2.9 degrees warmer than the long-term mean. In New South Wales, the average temperature was nearly 6 degrees hotter than what has been considered normal for the past century.
But 2021 by contrast has been cooler and with the impact of the La Niña weather cycle, much of the east coast has been doused with heavy rainfall.
La Niña years are associated with lower ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific and can bring higher rainfall for northern, eastern and central parts of the country, as well as cooler daytime temperatures.
However, scientists say global heating is increasing the likelihood of heavy rains and flooding in La Niña years, while also making heatwaves, bushfires and droughts worse in El Niño years.