7:14pm: Thank you for joining us.
The Herald will once again have a storm wrap in Friday's paper. It's 14 pages of images from around the Hunter, analysis, comment and stories of bravery and the community banding together to help each other move on from the devastation.
Here's one last image from South Maitland taken by Herald photographer Brock Perks.
7:15pm: Here's the latest on the state and Catholic schools which will remain closed on Friday.
6:52pm:Herald photographer Brock Perks took this image of Louth Park resident Luke Muirhead with a neighbour's horse and sheep that he walked two kilometres to safety. Well done Luke!
6:20pm: The Transport Management Centre in its latest alert is advising motorists to exercise caution along the New England Highway and Pacific Highway around Hexham due to flooding.
They say that only one eastbound lane is open on the New England Highway approaching Hexham Bridge.
Here is more of what they have to say:
There is still water over the Pacific Highway at Hexham between Hexham Bridge and Tomago Road.
Traffic delays have eased through the area but motorists are still advised to slow down and drive to the conditions.
Elsewhere in the Hunter:
- Main Road/Cessnock Road closed in both directions at various locations from Maitland to Kurri Kurri.
- New England Highway closed both directions between Church Street and High Street at Maitland.
- Cessnock Road is closed in both directions near Church Street at Abermain.
- Putty Road is closed near Inlet Road Bulga
- Some roads around Maitland, Raymond Terrace, Singleton and Port Stephens.
5:58pm: The SES issues a minor flood warning for the Lower Hunter River at Maitland and a major flood warning for Wollombi Brook.
This is what they have to say:
Minor flooding continues to ease along the lower Hunter River at Maitland. Downstream of Maitland, river levels at Raymond Terrace are falling slowly with minor flooding.
Major flooding continues to rise along the Wollombi Brook at Bulga where the river is expected to peak late this afternoon.
The Hunter River at Singleton is expected to peak below minor flood level tonight.
Predicted River Heights/Flows:
- Bulga (Wollombi Brook), peak near 7.3 metres around 5pm Thursday with major flooding
The likely consequences of this are that low-lying rural areas may be flooded and rural roads may close if the river rises continue. These are likely to include:
Bulga (Wollombi Brook) Gauge
- The Windsor to Singleton (Putty Road) is closed near the Bulga Public School.
- Wollombi Brook may have broken out of its banks causing flooding of rural areas.
5:57pm: This is one way of making the most of being stranded in Hinton.
5:28pm: An act of kindness.
5:12pm: Pictures from Bligh St Telarah on Wednesday.
5pm: The widespread closure of schools in the Hunter this week has caused confusion among some teachers, writes Sam Rigney.
The widespread closure of schools in the Hunter this week has caused confusion among some teachers.
With more than 100 Catholic and public schools closed since the cyclonic storm hit the Hunter on Tuesday, rumours had began circling that teachers off work were still required to report to their nearest school for duty.
With some staff cut-off completely from civilisation and others an hour or more away from the nearest operating school, some teachers were left puzzled about their obligations.
But on Thursday the Department of Education and Communities sought to clear up any confusion. A spokesman said staff were ‘‘typically’’ asked to report for work at other schools nearby, if it was safe and practical for them to do so.
But those decisions were left up to principals and individual staff, meaning there was not an overriding responsibility for teachers to report work at their nearest school.
‘‘Where they are to report, or whether they are able to, depends on local factors including their own school’s needs and whether it is safe for them to access other schools,’’ the spokesman said.
These decisions are made by consultation between Directors, Principals and individual staff.
4:52pm: Footage of a car being washed down Blight Street, Telarah yesterday afternoon. Footage courtesy of Adam Sujecki.
4:51pm: Tweet Beyond Bank kickstarts flood fundraiser with big cash injection.
4:13pm: Hunter New England Health issues an alert urging people to be careful when the clean-up efforts get underway.
They advise the following:
- Wash mud, dirt and debris from your house with a hose, starting at the highest point and working down to ground level.
- Where possible, remove all wet items such as floor coverings, rugs, mats, furniture, bedding, linen and clothing. If floor coverings are removed, thoroughly clean and dry the floor underneath before new material is laid.
- Be alert to snakes, spiders and rats that may have taken refuge in your home.
- Begin drying out the house as soon as floodwaters recede.
* Open doors and windows during dry days.
* Fans may also help.
* Attempt to drain water away from under the house to increase airflow.
* Check for trapped water and mud in wall or floor cavities.
* Never use petrol or diesel-powered equipment (such as generators and pumps) in enclosed spaces.
- Each area affected by floodwater within the house needs to be cleaned, including empty refrigerators and cupboards.
- While cleaning up, be mindful of materials containing asbestos and take appropriate precautions.
- Mould or mildew may develop if items are not completely dried. Mould or mildew may be removed with household bleach, however the strength of the product may ruin some household items. Wear a mask when working with heavy mould.
4:10pm: The NSW Rural Fires Service closed the floodgates at Maitland station earlier today.
4:07pm: Newcastle Council libraries are inviting residents to use their facilities to charge phones.
4:01pm: Maitland City Council have just posted this - free green waste drop off at Mt Vincent.
3:50pm: Ausgrid's list of the suburbs that have had their power restored in Newcastle and the Hunter.
3:40pm: Here's the latest from Ausgrid:
More than 70,000 homes and businesses have been reconnected to the electricity grid over the past 24 hours after savage storms hit Sydney, the Central Coast and Hunter this week.
Crews in the Hunter face continuing flooding and roadblocks as they work to restore electricity supply to about 85,000 customers across the region.
On the Central Coast, about 55,000 homes and businesses remain without power, and supply is still out to about 12,000 customers across Sydney.
1400 field staff are on the ground across the network to help get power back safely to customers as quickly as possible, and more crews from around NSW and south-east Queensland due to hit the ground tomorrow.
However, in locations where local networks have been extensively damaged, or power is cut to single properties or small groups of homes, repairs are likely to continue into next week.
Click here for further updates and a list of areas where power has been restored or is still out.
3:33pm: Merewether High School Year 7- 10 students are asked to once stay at home on Friday April 24.
The school says that it can only accommodate students in Year 11 and 12.
Read more here on how the school is progressing with their storm damage.
3:30pm: Rising flood waters have forced State Emergency Service workers to raise boom gates across the main northern rail line at Maitland Station, writes Ian Kirkwood.
3:18pm: From the NXFM Facebook page.
2:50pm: Recreation areas in Hunter and Central Coast State Forests have been closed, advises the Forestry Corporation of NSW.
Camping and picnic areas and lookouts in Chichester State Forest near Dungog, along both Allyn and Telegherry Rivers, the State Forests of the Watagan Mountains, including Heaton and Olney State Forests, and Strickland State Forest near Somersby have been closed to all visitors due to safety concerns following severe wet weather in the region.
“We have had staff in the forests yesterday and today starting to clear roads and ensuring all campers who were known to be in the forests have been accounted for and were able to leave safely,” says Forestry Corporation of NSW’s Recreation Team Leader Pauline Stewart.
“However, the storms have caused widespread damage in the region’s forests, uprooting trees across roads and creating a large number of overhead hazards in visitor areas, and it is just not safe for people to visit these areas until those hazards have been removed.
“We will formally inspect all recreation areas in the forest once weather conditions improve to assess the damage, but we may take some time to reopen areas if heavy machinery is required to remove hazardous trees and branches.
“We would also not recommend going into other forests in the region or using forest roads in the short term as it may take some time to assess other roads in the area.
“If you are planning to visit a State forest in the region, please visit our website to check if it is open before you visit and pay attention to any signage or instructions from staff in the forest.”
2:45pm: Hunter TAFE students are advised that all campuses will be closed on Friday, 24 April 2015.
Hunter TAFE also says that it will provide updates on arrangements for Monday by 1pm Friday through their website, media outlets and social media spaces.
2:28pm: And this one also from Matthew Kelly.
2:26pm:Herald reporter Matthew Kelly has just posted this. He's on his way to Hinton.
2:17pm: The ocean turns brown beyond the Newcastle Harbour mouth due to flood run-off from the Hunter River.
1:54pm: An SES boat to Gillieston Heights.
1:51pm: The Port of Newcastle will re-open on Thursday afternoon after being closed during this week’s wild weather, writes Sam Rigney.
A spokeswoman said the swell rose to 13 metres on Tuesday, but it has since fallen to three metres.
‘‘The Hunter River continues to experience flooding upstream of the port, and flooding within the port is anticipated to peak within the next 48 hours,’’ the spokeswoman said.
‘‘A number of outbound vessel movements are planned this afternoon, subject to final assessment of each movement by the Newcastle Harbour Master, Port Authority of New South Wales.’’
The last ship to leave the port was about 4.40pm on Monday.
1:49pm: Maitland rail line looking to Rutherford.
1:45pm: Maitland rail under water.
1:30pm: Premier Mike Baird has warned that Hunter communities devastated by flooding face a lengthy recovery while there are concerns for another weather system that could develop in the southern part of the state.
Mr Baird visited the State Emergency Service's Hunter headquarters at Metford on Thursday where he received a briefing.
He said he was surprised by the level of devastation across the region as people's homes, businesses and livestock were damaged or destroyed.
He also warned that another low pressure system could hit the southern part of the state on Sunday which could scatter more rain across the Hunter and Central Coast.
SES Commissioner Adam Dent warned that even though flood waters were dropping across the region, any further rain could trigger more flooding while areas were still saturated.
The premier will travel to Dungog this afternoon where he will assess the damage after homes were washed away and three people died.
1:06pm: The woman who died when her car was washed away at Maitland yesterday was Gillieston Heights great grandmother Anne Jermain, writes Kristen Stoop.
Mrs Jermain, 86, had three children Trevor, Robert and Jennifer and a large extended family.
She was a member of the Telarah Bowling Club.
‘‘She was a great grandmother,’’ her son Trevor said.
She will be very sadly missed, she was healthy, active and strong willed.’’
12:47: JOANNE MCCARTHY IN TUGGERAH LAKES: The sun was out, the street was flooded and school was closed.
What was a kid to do but make the most of it?
Zac buehler-Craig, 11, paddled up Coogee Avenue, North Entrance today as Tuggerah Lakes flooded suburbs including Long Jetty, Killarney Vale, Chittaway Bay and Toukley.
The Lakes system is expected to get higher in coming days as flooded rivers empty into it.
12:45pm: This was posted on the KOFM's Facebook page.
12:37pm: Mike Baird is in the Hunter today visiting areas affected by the storm. Herald photographer Simone De Peak is with the Premier in Metford.
12:20pm: Newcastle Council announces that from this Saturday 25 April until Sunday 10 May local residents will be able to drop-off green waste and bulk waste for free at Summerhill Waste Management Centre.
"Newcastle and the Hunter have taken a battering in the last few days and there is a lot to clean up. We are pleased to be able to help our community recover by offering free bulk and green waste drop offs at Summerhill Waste Management Centre from this weekend", says Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.
12:13: This has just come to our attention from Uber.
12:01pm: TUGGERAH LAKES: Cameron Nesbit of Lake Street Long Jetty can see the funny side of being flooded, writes Joanne McCarthy.
"Finally I've got the waterfront I always wanted", he said while wading up his street.
Lake Street Long Jetty is almost under water for its full length after Tuggerah Lakes rose from 3pm on Wednesday to inundate many roads, houses, caravan parks and some businesses on its shores.
Mr Nesbit who has lived at Long Jetty for 15 years said residents started moving cars furniture animals and goods from yesterday afternoon when it was clear continuing rain was going to cause widespread flooding.
"It's going to get higher again from noon when its high tide, it takes a bit of time for the tide to hit the Lake so this will keep going on for a while."
Mr Nesbit said his house was dry at the moment because it was built up. He said he wasn't sure whether this was higher than the 2007 Pasha Bulker flooding.
11:54am: This picture was sent in by Herald reporter Ian Kirkwood looking south to Mt Sugarloaf.
11:51am: Weather conditions are more benign across the Lower Hunter on Thursday morning but evidence of damage from Tuesday's and Wednesday's wild weather is everywhere.
A vast inland sea still exists around much of the Maitland area and Gillieston Heights remains cut off and without electricity.
The State Emergency Service is understood to have at least two boats in the water at the scene of Wednesday's tragic drowning and some private boats are also reportedly ferrying people across the water.
But the SES is only ferrying people with genuine emergencies and Gillieston Heights residents are being told they will have to wait for the waters to recede before the road will be re-opened.
Traffic travelling into Maitland is gridlocked along Les Darcy Drive, although the traffic on the journey east is sparse and moving freely.
Reporter Kirsten Stoop, an eye-witness to Wednesday's tragedy on the flooded Cessnock Road, said water levels were still as high as they were the day before.
11:37am: A post seen on the Westfield Kotara's Facebook page.
11:27am: As the evacuation of Gilliestone Heights kicks in residents have taken matters into their own hands and have formed a Facebook page to help each other out.
Do you know more? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org
11:36am: The organiser of the Facebook page ‘‘Residents of Gillieston Heights’’ is calling on the Army or Red Cross to help. ‘Gosh we need some organisation here, red cross, army??’ Michelle Adams posted.
Nic Holstein has said an excavator is needed at the commnunity centre, where food and water is being distributed, as there are burst water pipes.
11:25am: GILLIESTONE HEIGHTS: Here's the latest advice to residents from the SES.
NSW SES and NSW Police are currently working in the Gillieston Heights area, utilising a NSW SES boat to transfer personnel across into Gillieston Heights.
Currently, there are three NSW Police officers in Gillieston Heights, liaising with the community and gathering information to assist with the response. Additional resources (boats) have been sourced from surrounding areas and are en-route to the area.
Representatives from Family and Community Services and Red Cross are now in place at Maitland Showground to assist residents leaving the Gillieston Heights area. Where relocation arrangements have not been made, Family and Community Services will assist with transport to the Ashtonfield Evacuation Centre if required. Any Gillieston Heights residents wishing to relocate from the area are advised to seek more information from NSW SES volunteers in Gillieston Heights.
The NSW SES appreciates the community’s patience and understanding; crews are working as quickly and safely as possible.
11:24am: Insurance losses from the storm that hit the Hunter and Sydney have risen to $161 million, with more than 24,000 claims lodged.
The Insurance Council of Australia says companies will send out assessors on Thursday to try to speed up the claims process in the worst hit areas, although some of those remain inaccessible.
It has also warned residents to be wary of people going door to door offering to carry out building repairs for cash.
‘‘These are often opportunistic shysters whose work is unlikely to be up to standard and won’t be covered by insurance,’’ council chief executive Rob Whelan said.
With many homes still without power, most of the claims lodged so far have been for light damage.
‘‘These are early figures for this catastrophe, and insurers are standing by for many more claims to be lodged over the next few days,’’ Mr Whelan said.
Households and businesses could speed up the claims process by taking pictures of the damage to show their insurer.
"However, it’s important to contact your insurer before engaging any tradespeople or builders for repair work, even emergency repairs. Unauthorised work may not be covered by your policy.’’
11:22am: Police are confident a would-be burglar who jumped into the raging Hunter River whilst being chased at Hexham was able to safely get out and escape.
The suspect tried to escape a closing police dog by diving into the torrent about 1am yesterday after police were called to screaming alarms at Hexham Bowling Club.
He is believed to have got himself out of the river, full of flood debris and animal carcasses flowing towards Newcastle, and escaped the police net.
Two other men were arrested at the scene but released pending further investigations.
11:15am: We bring you the latest information and updates as the Hunter region grapples with the aftermath of the cyclonic storms that hit the region just three days ago.