1 December 2022

When flash flooding took out 100 homes in Coota, even preschoolers pitched in to help

| Edwina Mason
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Cootamundra has rallied to help residents impacted by the flash flooding event of 31 October, opening a volunteer-run pop-up shop in the centre of town that will remain open until it is no longer required. Photo: Cootamundra Red Cross.

Down Cootamundra way where recent flash flooding took out 100 homes, the residents are really proving what being part of a country community is all about.

No one is more thrilled to see the rallying and support being dished out in bucketloads than the Mayor.

After a heavy storm dumped more than 53 mm of rain in the area on 31 October, the most surprised were those living around Muttama Creek, which courses through the town, who were told to evacuate that night.

Charlie Sheahan, Mayor of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council, said he received a call around 8:30 pm telling him to expect flash flooding.

“We were told it would peak around midnight,” he said, “so we only had a few hours to exercise our evacuation procedures.”

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More than 100 homes near the town were engulfed in the ensuing floodwaters that raged down low-lying areas near Muttama Creek, taking everything in their wake and leaving the locals to face the catastrophic damage, which also took out critical local infrastructure including bridges, roads and power.

The next morning, they woke to water views as the water continued to surge through the town’s streets.

As the day crept along, it was the new bush telegraph that is social media that demonstrated just how serious the damage was, with cries for help coming from all quarters of the local government area – as far north as Wallendbeen, south to Gundagai and out west at Stockinbingal.

In the town itself, 23 houses were rendered uninhabitable.

But it was the immediate response to the disaster that impressed Cr Sheahan as residents stepped up to offer help.

The most profound example has been a Flood Recovery Centre Pop-up Store set up within days by the Cootamundra Red Cross – under the supervision of former Citizen of the Year Helen Eccleston – established at 180 Parker Street, where clothing, cleaning products, food hampers and home-cooked meals have been made available to flood victims.

One local store, Baileyana, donated new clothes that were supplemented by Thread Together, an organisation founded to donate rather than dispose of unsold clothing, and the local girl guides stepped up to help with sorting.

The force of the flash flooding event in the Cootamundra-Gundagai Local Government Area caught everybody by surprise. Photo: Timothy Dean Photography.

Also pitching in was Milestones Early Education Centre as toddlers and preschoolers banded together to cook three delicious meals for the Red Cross Pop-up Shop.

Thirty-four pre-cooked meals – spaghetti bolognese, butter chicken and curried sausages – were prepared for flood-affected people.

The volunteer-run store has remained open from 10 am to 5 pm weekdays and 10 am to 2 pm on weekends since the flash flood, continuing to support the flood-impacted.

“And it will remain open until it’s no longer needed,” Cr Sheahan said.

There were also a few pats on the back for Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) – which is about as rare as a prime mover being moved by a ton of water into a creek – but that happened!

They immediately appointed Andrew Brock as flood recovery coordinator and he’s already clocked up the kilometres travelling the local government area, coordinating with Resilience NSW, BlazeAid, charity organisations and other bodies to ensure residents receive the help they need.

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BlazeAid has set up camp at the Cootamundra Showgrounds, with teams already cutting a swathe through the debris-ridden district.

Cr Sheahan said the council was still thinking of ways to assist beyond the free dumping of flood-affected household items at the landfill centres and strategically placed skip bins installed at sites of major damage.

To that end, CGRC has set up a dedicated Flood Recovery page https://www.cgrc.nsw.gov.au/cgrc-flood-recovery/ on the council website, with links to services, assistance and information in dealing with flooding.

Teams from Resilience NSW, Service NSW and Services Australia have also visited the town offering face-to-face recovery assistance, accommodation services, mental health and wellbeing services, support for businesses, financial aid, insurance, and legal support.

These multi-agency hubs – known as Recovery Assistance Points – have been designed to dexterously link into each NSW community to support flood-affected individuals, families, farmers and business owners to begin the clean-up and recovery process.

As of this week, Cr Sheahan said, six residents remained without homes.

He continues to urge residents who were impacted by the flash flood to keep seeking help.

“We have done everything we can think of to pitch in and help,” he said.

“I’m very proud of our community; people have reached out and the community has banded together.”

Meanwhile, he has asked the public to be patient and let council staff work on the priorities that need to be assessed and support them in their efforts to return communities to normal.

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