The remnants of ex-Tropical Cyclone Kirrily and a deep low-pressure trough gave the Illawarra a drenching in the early hours of this morning (6 February).
The Kiama automated weather station recorded 70 mm of rain over the 24 hours to 9 am Tuesday, and the SES was called to 14 incidents from Kiama Downs to Helensburgh.
Volunteers rescued the occupants of two cars from floodwaters on the same road within minutes of each other, and Shellharbour SES volunteer Nikki Ristoski fears safety messages aren’t sinking in.
“There are some notorious areas around Albion Park that always go under,” she said.
“They flood really quickly and then recede really quickly, so people get complacent.
“Taylors Road is one of those spots. After a member of the public called in the early hours of this morning SES members went out to see if roads needed closing and came across a vehicle already stuck in floodwaters on Taylor’s Road shortly before 6 am.
“Volunteers were able to block off the road with the SES vehicle and rescue the occupant of the stuck vehicle. Immediately afterwards, at 6:12 am, another vehicle decided to drive in, despite the SES vehicle blocking the road.
“They also got stuck and volunteers rescued the occupant of the second vehicle. Luckily there were no injuries, but we really urge people not to take those risks.”
Nikki said floodwaters could be deceptive, and even if you knew a road well, once it was submerged there was no telling what could be underneath.
Driving through floodwaters isn’t just a risk to the person behind the wheel, but puts passengers and emergency service volunteers in danger too.
“Flooding damages the road surface, and the more vehicles go through it, the weaker the surface becomes,” Nikki said.
“You can’t see if the road has broken down and it’s deeper than you expect. It might look shallow, but you can’t see debris, logs or potholes under the surface.
“You also can’t see how fast the water is flowing underneath, and that’s what picks your car up and carries it down the road.
“You might be able to get out if the car gets stuck or swept away, but if you have passengers you’re putting their lives at risk, especially if they’re elderly, children or have mobility impairments.
“Volunteers are well trained, but if they have to come and rescue you they can’t see what’s under the water either, they’re working in unknown circumstances.”
She urged drivers to find another route if they saw water over the road, and if the danger was not enough to put you off driving through flooded roads, Nikki said any damage your car cops was unlikely to be covered by insurance.
She said the other big concern for volunteers was seeing kids playing in floodwaters, and she urged parents to keep their kids away from flooded roads and sports fields this afternoon.
“We often see kids in their gumboots or with boogie boards playing in floodwaters up to their knees,” she said.
“The currents can wash them into the creek, and with the amount of debris already in there it can become an emergency really quickly.”