As the wind howled outside the Maitland SES headquarters in April, 2015, crews knew the situation was bad – so much so, they feared looking out the window.
The weather event that would soon become known as the April super storm was brewing outside.
This weekend marks the second anniversary of the super storm, which lashed the Maitland and Dungog area, brought more than 400mm of rain in four hours, claimed the lives of four people and isolated communities for days.
Emergency crews from across the spectrum – police, SES, Rural Fire Service, paramedics, Fire and Rescue NSW – worked around the clock as the natural disaster unfolded and in the aftermath that followed.
“It was just constant, to the point where it was about 2 o’clock in the morning and we all kind of looked around and could hear the wind and we were all too scared to look out the window,” SES community engagement officer Alex Varley said.
“The prediction was 90km/h winds and we ended up with almost 200km/h winds that night.
“When we eventually did [look out the window] it was kind of like that scene from The Wizard of Oz where everything is flying around the house in the tornado.
“There were things flying around everywhere.”
Ms Varley said the resulting flood didn’t behave “typically”.
“It threw us a bit because it wasn’t the rivers that flooded – it was the creeks,” she said.
“It didn’t happen as it should have, as such.”
SES training officer Allan Watson described the scenes around Maitland during the super storm in one word: “chaos”.
“Both ends of Gillieston Heights were blocked, so you couldn’t get in or out,” he said.
Volunteer Brett Rowan said the super storm was one of the worst weather events he had experienced since he joined the SES in 1972.
“I used to be in Sydney and I have seen some really bad floods down there, but nothing like [the April super storm],” he said.
Ms Varley said it was a matter of time before Maitland faced another major storm or flood.
She said the disaster showed that many people were complacent about severe weather events, but simple tasks, like clearing roof gutters and keeping trees trimmed, could help reduce the risk of damage to homes and lives.
“It’s not a matter of if [another flood] is going to happen, it’s a matter of when it will happen,” she said.
“There is only so much the services can do, whether it’s preparedness or saving these houses or properties.
“You have to be self sufficient to a certain extent. You have to be prepared, yourself.”