Hunter storms recovery - Hansard

My electorate of Charlestown and the entire Hunter region recently suffered from a natural disaster the like of which has not been experienced in living memory, as an east-coast low crossed our coast. The sky was grey and ominous; Lake Macquarie was brown and frothing. High waves battered our foreshores causing flooding and damage. Boats shook violently, with some breaking their moorings and sinking. Winds reached speeds of up to 135 kilometres per hour and unending rain saw Lake Macquarie peak at just over one metre above its normal level. According to the NSW State Emergency Service [SES], this storm event is shaping up to be one of the largest—if not the largest—in the history of New South Wales. Enormous thanks go to the hundreds of local SES members working in the Hunter, as well as the hundreds from outside the region.

 

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 The most destructive storm ever to affect the region's electricity networks also left some of our residents in the dark for more than a week, and about half of the Hunter lost power at some point. I commend the tireless and courageous efforts of the emergency services, the emergency staff of Ausgrid and Hunter Water, and the countless volunteers and council staff who continue to work for the benefit of our communities. I commend also the work of the charities in the non-government sector that are ably supporting people across the Hunter who are affected.

The community spirit that has been on show is inspiring and demonstrates the resilience of our communities and the dedication of our volunteers. Hunter Water has worked tirelessly to restore services to suburbs across our city, as uprooted trees broke water mains and cut supply to suburbs. Hunter Water has now restored water to all but a few residents of the region. The force of the floodwater from this event can be seen in the photographs of Hunter Water's main overland pipeline, which has stood for almost 100 years but was easily brushed aside by this destructive storm.

In the era of social media, Facebook and Twitter have played a significant role in disseminating information about school and road closures, as well as water and power supply updates, and services provided by charities and other organisations supporting people who are affected. The experience of people in my electorate of Charlestown was repeated, and even amplified, across the region. The deaths of elderly residents—one in Maitland and three in Dungog—have touched us all. I express my condolences on behalf the residents of the Charlestown electorate to the friends and families of those deceased persons. I think Dungog has particularly touched a nerve in us all. A beautiful and well-loved district in our region is now facing a terrible recovery.

In affected areas such as Gillieston Heights, which has been cut off for a considerable time, the experience is similar to that of Dungog, with loss of life and property losses. The residents of Gillieston Heights held a makeshift Anzac ceremony. They were unable to travel to Maitland for Anzac Day so they staged an Anzac ceremony on what became known as "Gillieston Island". School students in Gillieston Heights are still not able to travel to school by bus due to road closures. They are now into their third week of being unable to get to school. Houses in Wallalong in the Port Stephens electorate are still flooded. Drainage problems are causing immense difficulties for the residents of Wallalong.

If the work required to bring the post-storm status of my electorate of Charlestown back to normal is significant, the work required in Dungog is hard to comprehend. I am proud that councils from across the regions have unanimously offered the assistance and guidance of senior staff members to Dungog Shire Council. The Hunter region will take significant time to recover and heal from recent events. I am pleased that a disaster recovery committee has been established so that all the affected people across the region can be informed and kept up to date with the services being provided and directly feed into decisions that are being made as to where services are provided. Our task is to ensure that the community is better prepared in the future as events such as this massive event in the Hunter become more frequent.