Wild weather lashes the Hunter: Three dead, four houses washed away in Dungog

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THREE people have died in Dungog as unprecedented floodwater ripped through the town during the torrential storms that battered the Hunter on Monday night.

Four houses next to Myall Creek at the northern end of Dungog’s main street were ripped from their foundations and smashed to pieces, and a fifth had shifted noticeably.

Residents said the deceased were Robyn McDonald, aged about 70, of Hooke Street, and Colin Webb, 79, and Brian Wilson, 72, who lived a block away, across the road from each other, in Brown Street.

Dungog resident Sally Fitzpatrick, a former neighbour of Ms McDonald, said the town was ‘‘very quiet’’ and ‘‘in shock’’.

‘‘I heard [Ms McDonald] didn’t want to abandon her dog and she was washed away but the dog survived,’’ Ms Fitzpatrick said.

Floodwaters isolated Dungog for much of Tuesday but the flooding receded enough late in the afternoon to allow road access from Stroud, which was also dealing with the aftermath of Monday night’s torrential rain.

Premier Mike Baird said emergency services were doing everything they could to restore services to the region.

 ‘‘Some of the areas are remote and cut off,’’ he said.

 ‘‘... The expectation is the weather could get more severe.’’

On the footpath outside Dungog’s Bank Hotel,  the families who lost their homes gathered with friends and relatives to shake their heads at what had happened, and to commiserate the loss of their three neighbours.

A dozen or more nearby homes were also flooded during the night.

Charities had left bundles of clothing and food for those in need, and a volunteer from the Anglican op-shop in Dungog’s main street visited the crowd outside the pub to tell them to come up to get whatever they needed.

Pointing to high water marks more than a metre over their heads, Hooke Street, Dungog, residents Trish Whitehead and Rory Freeman said the waters were so high that a boat was tied to the first floor verandah of their weatherboard home.

The washed-away houses were captured on a mobile phone by Dungog teenager Jarod Rits, whose footage, uploaded onto Facebook during the day, went viral.

 ‘‘The water was just a roar really, rushing through the streets,’’ Mr Rits  said. 

The 18-year-old said he woke  to sound of  rain hammering his house, and went outside to assess the situation.

After seeing people fleeing their houses, Mr Rits said he ‘‘ran back inside to get things ready to get out quickly’’ but the water rose so quickly ‘‘we had to walk up to waist-deep to get out’’.

‘‘The water came out of nowhere, it just rose that quick,’’ he said, in a phone interview from a friend’s house.

 State Emergency Services personnel were stretched by the scale of devastation across the Lower Hunter but a number of Dungog residents hit by the floodwaters said it had been hard to get help in the early hours of Tuesday, when the waters began rising rapidly.

Colleen Jones and her husband Stephen, who lost everything except their four dogs, a car and a runabout hitched on a trailer, said the area near Myall Creek was ‘‘the forgotten end of Dungog’’.

John Edwards and Angie Taylor, whose house disappeared from the other side of Dowling Street, said the area was known for its occasional small floods, but nothing on this scale.

Matt Hinton, who worked at the nearby tractor dealer, Reliance Motors, said the water tore through the workshop and flooded tractors up to their roofs.

Amanda Ballantine, who saw houses either side of hers in the main street washed away, said she had taken her  10-month-old daughter Wanika to a house on higher ground to go back to deal with the situation.

‘‘It looked like it was going to be all right and then suddenly it was getting to a dangerous level,’’ Ms Ballantine said.

Hooke Street resident Wayne Pritchard said his 1930s house had been completely flooded with ‘‘head high’’ waters.

‘‘None of us have ever seen anything like this,’’ Mr Pritchard said.

Residents said the flooding had been caused by torrential rain in the hills north and west of the town.

An estimated 150mm or more of overnight rain had run down gully drainage lines and into  Myall Creek, which joined the Williams River about 800metres away from the scene of the devastation.

Tinara Braham’s Andrew   father owns the property which was filmed as it was washed away on Dowling Street.

Ms Braham said it was one of a  number of houses which were submerged in the low-lying  end of town after torrential overnight rainfall.

 ‘‘It washed away about   7am,’’  she said. ‘‘We checked it about 5am and it was submerged but OK. By the time we got back to our house in Mary Street, it was gone.

‘‘The house next door to it was also washed away and completely destroyed.

  Evacuation centres are operating at the Senior Citizens Centre in Irrawang Road, Raymond Terrace, and  Shamrock Hill Multipurpose Centre, Galway Bay Drive, Ashtonfield.