Here at the Museum, we focus on local firefighting history, but did you know that floods are the most expensive type of natural disaster we face? The costliest summer for floods in Australia was 2010-11 across Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane which cost 7.45 billion dollars!
This week, we’re looking at the town of Narrabri, which due to its geography, is no stranger to a flood or two. Narrabri is located in the Northwest Slopes of New South Wales on Kamilaroi country, about 521km northwest of Sydney, with a population of about 6000. Narrabri experiences floods about once every 10 years on average. The longest period between floods in their recorded history is 14 years (on two occasions).
In 2000, Narrabri was hit by a major flood. Only two years earlier in 1998, the town had faced three floods in one year. In November 2000, the Peel and Namoi Rivers flooded Tamworth before moving through Gunnedah and Boggabri, with Narrabri next up. The North West of NSW was declared a Natural Disaster Area.
At this point, the NSW Fire Brigades (now Fire and Rescue NSW) set up an Emergency Operations Centre in Narrabri to support the Combat Authority (SES) and other local emergencies and to prepare and protect the community. In their preparation efforts, they sandbagged the CBD and vulnerable residences and businesses. They evacuated people and property from low lying areas and helped the elderly to stack up furniture and roll their carpets. Once the flooding started, a number of roads in Narrabri closed, so firefighters played an important role in getting meals to elderly citizens, collecting urgent medical supplies and transporting emergency staff to and from their work in hospitals and nursing homes.
The flood reached its most harrowing point on Thursday, November 23rd 2000. Narrabri residents braced their homes for a peak of 8.4 metres of water, and fortunately, the water stopped at 7.9 metres. Owing to the preparation efforts of emergency services, the CBD was in a salvageable shape. Yet, many outlying homes and businesses were swamped. When there is flooding in towns upstream (Gunnedah and Boggabri in this case) floodwaters often mix with sewage from overtaxed sewerage systems and spread bacteria. This bacteria can expose people to a variety of infections and illnesses, so it’s crucial to remove it from homes and properties. Fire and rescue crew were of enormous assistance in cleaning up and disinfecting the affected homes, fixing up over 60 homes and businesses, so that everyone could get back on their feet. Fire and Rescue NSW play a versatile role in natural disasters and are crucial at the preparation stage, the event stage and the aftercare stage.
“I think that the work the Fire Brigades do is a true representation of what community is all about. They’re always there, no matter what the crisis. You can always depend on the firies.”
The above is a quote from the manager of the Narrabri RSL Paul Gordon in Fire News, February 2001.
So what can you do to prepare yourself and your home for a flood? According to the Red Cross there are four key steps to staying safe and preparing for a flood: know, connect, organise and pack.
In these situations, knowledge and preparation is king. Get in the know about your flood risk and plan your alerts. Learn about your local flood history, about the heights at which your home or business could be affected by floodwater and contact your local council if you want more information on how flooding could directly affect your property. Understand the natural warning signs of floods which include predictions of heavy and/or prolonged rainfall, East Coast Lows affecting the region and heavy, sustained rainfall events in upstream catchments. Make sure you know how you’ll receive important information. Official warnings and flood advice are provided by the Bureau of Meteorology on their website as well as from the NSW State Emergency Services (SES) on radio stations and their social media. In some cases, you won’t see flooding in your neighbourhood before being told to evacuate, so official warnings can make all the difference. Learn about your safest route of travel in the event of an evacuation and identify at what height the floodwaters may cut off your route. Find out where evacuation centres in your area may get set up. Know the plans of your children’s school or care centre in the event of an emergency, and plan for your pets or animals.
Get connected and plan who you’ll need to find in a flood emergency, such as family, neighbours and emergency services. Identify who it is you’ll need to contact and what you’ll need from them. Be sure to let them know where you intend to go if your home is flooded and communicate about where your emergency meeting place will be. Keep local emergency numbers handy and be sure to contact NSW SES for emergency help in floods and storms on 132 500, or 000 for life-threatening emergencies.
Get organised and save or store important personal documents such as identification, insurance documents, wills, property titles and medical documentation. You can ask your doctor to store important medical information, including the names and doses of medications.
Get packing for the flood emergency and the aftermath. Pack your important documents, prepare a survival kit and think about precious items that will be important to your recovery. Important documents can be scanned and stored on a laptop or hard drive, or copied and kept safe in a waterproof bag or box. A survival kit should include everything you’ll need to survive in the event of a major flood, including medicines/first aid supplies, water, a torch, a portable radio, chargers and batteries, cash, toiletries, protective clothing, non-perishable food and hand sanitizer. Your recovery items are possessions that are sentimental to you and may include photos, jewellery, memorabilia and children’s toys. You will also need to pack up and prepare your home. Move what you can to a higher place, empty freezers and fridges and leave their doors open, turn off power, water and gas, put sandbags over the toilet bowl and drain holes, and lock your home but leave the gates open to allow flood waters to flow freely. And remember not to enter flood waters! Cars can float in as little as 30cm of water.
To read more about Narrabri Fire Brigade and their history checkout the Museum's Narrabri blog: https://www.museumoffire.net/single-post/station-focus-no-399-narrabri-1918-2018
-Story by Museum of Fire Education and Digital Officer Olivia Kelly