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AustralianFarmers

‘A wall of water hit my farm’: Kim’s story

Flooding events last year and into 2023 have re-written the history books. They took lives, swallowed entire communities, severed transport networks and wiped out crops. It’s hard to comprehend what people went through – and are still going through. Farmer and rural photographer Kim Storey has shared a raw, firsthand account of how fast events unravelled on her property. Kim was retrieved by helicopter after thinking things would be ok only a couple hours earlier.

Kim Storey is the creator behind the book What does a farmer look like?

It’s hard to explain what happened here on Monday 14 November. A wall of water hit my farm and continued into Eugowra. The level of trauma and destruction in our community is difficult to describe, it will be a long, long road for our people and town to recover.

My experience

We knew that the creek would flood and the people that have been here all their lives know where the biggest flood we’ve ever had has been. So, I knew that I might get some water in my shed and should lift some of that gear. At first light, with the help of a neighbour, I took my quad bike, mower, and my dog Ruby over to their place which doesn’t flood.

I had another bike that I needed a trailer for as it wouldn’t start so headed to another neighbour’s place to see if I could borrow a trailer or tractor to shift it, thinking we had plenty of time before the water arrived. As we walked from his house to get the tractor, he looked at the creek and told me I needed to get home, or I wouldn’t be able to get home. By the time I got to my house (this was 6am) the water was coming across the road.

This happens in a usual flood and the water goes either side of my house. I wasn’t concerned about it.

By 6.30am the water was all around my house, which is what I’d been told had happened in a huge flood, still wasn’t concerned. But then, I saw a Facebook post from a neighbour about 10km upstream saying she had just had to run up the hill to escape the water and everyone should get out. I thought “bugger this, if that’s what’s happening up there, I’m out”.

Kim put the drone up before things got scary.

When I went to get in my ute and leave, the water on either side of my house was too deep to drive through.

That was about 6.45am. Still thought, I’ll be ok, I have an idea of how high a big flood gets at my farm.

At 6.55am an empty water tank on the side of my house floated out onto the lawn, I still thought it’s ok, the fence will stop it and it can be retrieved later.

By 7.05am it was as high as I understood it had ever been, and just kept coming. By 7.15am roughly, I rang our local SES to see if they had a boat to come and get me, not wanting to be an inconvenience and quite embarrassed that I was even ringing them.

By 7.30am I was trying to call back to say the boat won’t be able to get here because of the rapids the water was creating either side of me and that a chopper would be the only thing that would get here. Still embarrassed that I was making these calls, thinking that maybe this is a normal level of water and I had it wrong? Then some neighbours from downstream who had come up to check where the water was, called me and asked if I wanted to get out and by this stage I was calmly panicking and I think just said yes please!

The phone service was hopeless that day and kept dropping out so each time I spoke to someone I had no idea if the message got through that I badly needed help.

The times get a bit sketchy from now on, but by 8.05am I was scared and had called triple zero. Miraculously, that call stayed connected and I felt more confident that help was coming. When I next spoke to my neighbours, all I heard was one of the blokes from town saying, “we’ve got a chopper coming for you” and it dropped out.

Kim was one of many airlifted to safety.

The water had started coming into the house. I had only joked with my neighbour that morning “I wonder if it will come in the house” and he said “if it goes in your house, I’ll be in trouble down here” …I think we laughed?! Because of this, I was suddenly thinking about how he would be going and if he would still be there when the chopper came.

In minutes, things went from bad to “this might be my last day”.

The water rose around a metre in 15 minutes here. I tried to get on the roof but couldn’t. Things floating in the water were hitting the house and causing it to shudder. I was thinking about how I was going to send my family a text to say that I love them before I jump off the verandah and hopefully float to somewhere safer before my house washed away. I did not want to be trapped in the house when it went.

This is the last photo Kim took, looking out her front door.

The last photo I took at my house was at 8.31am looking out my front glass door, where I was paralysed with fear. I couldn’t look out the back door because the water was coming up the glass and rushing so fast between the house and shed, it was terrifying.

Then I heard the chopper. I took two steps out on the verandah to wave at them and say, “yes I’m here!”, they saw me. When I turned around to go back inside, the water almost knocked me off my feet.

Once back in I couldn’t work out how I was going to get across the verandah to the rescue team when they dropped down from the chopper. Then he popped up in my lounge room, having come in through the laundry door and said “G’day, I’m Aaron and I’m going to rescue you”. I have never felt relief like it.

It’s funny, the things you remember and don’t remember. I can remember exactly what he said to me, but I can’t remember the phone call I made to my mum saying something like “the chopper is coming to get me, I have to go” …poor mum hearing that and nothing more for ages. I don’t remember making that call.

When the water receded, there was damage every where you turned.

The relief from seeing Aaron, quickly turned back to terror when we walked back out the laundry door, that and the shock of entering the cold rushing water was just a feeling that I can’t even describe. I just had my eyes screwed shut and focused on breathing the whole time we were going up to the chopper.

Then we headed to my neighbour’s place. The water was everywhere, and I couldn’t see him anywhere. The relief when his head popped up the side of the chopper was huge! We then headed upstream and picked up my neighbour who had to run up the hill to escape the water at her place. Once we had her on board, we were taken to Parkes airport and dropped off.

Sitting there thinking that all I had left was the clothes I was wearing and my phone, because there was no way my house could survive that.

We started getting messages filtering through about what was happening in town. It was not something any of us could really comprehend. I had enough battery left on my phone to post on Facebook that we had been airlifted and were safe at Parkes. Still not thinking what that amount of water would mean for our town and community, maybe it was the shock.

We got a lift back to Eugowra and all that day watched around eleven helicopters rescuing people from trees, trucks, and house roofs.

Still not comprehending the level of what was happening and the midst of all this, our communications went out. No-one could contact anyone.

There were 159 official rescues that day. Many, many more rescues performed by amazing people in our community. There are hundreds of stories. People still in their house when it washed away. People hanging on to trees.

People watching a house floating down the street towards them as they were trying to get out.

People stuck on the back of trucks for hours and hours. People not knowing where their kids were. People trapped with a newborn baby. People trying to save animal sand being washed away.

We lost two of our loved people.

The wave of water that hit left no time for people get out. I wasn’t on the east side of town so I can’t describe what it was like, but I have seen the trauma on people’s faces and in the telling of their own stories in the last few weeks.

Some of the stories are being shared by Andrew Barnes from Geagle Productions and by Andrew Gee MP on his Facebook page.

The aftermath

The only fence I have left is about 500m of boundary fence, the rest is gone. Most have been ripped out and have disappeared.

The full force of the flood is evident.

The erosion along my front creek is shocking, one tree was completely taken out and the massive root systems of most of the other trees have been exposed.

My ute had water going over the roof.

Kim’s ute was submerged.

The sheepyards were washed away. The cattle yards were a mess but should be salvageable.

My new pasture paddock is still half underwater and dying. The lagoon smells like death.

The bore shed is gone and the bore head is on an angle. The shed is trashed but should be salvageable…maybe.

My house had water through it but not very deep, carpets, books, calendars and linen were about the only things destroyed inside.

Fortunately I sold all of my lambs three days before it happened. They would have all been washed away.

A seemingly endless amount of clean up and repairs.

The rebuild

I’m working on relocating my house to the small part of the farm that didn’t go under water. The cost is huge but I can’t risk going through that again, even though it will likely never happen again in my lifetime.

There is around 6km of fencing to replace. The bore needs work to get it operational again. New sheep yards are required. Pasture will need to be re-sown. There is so much to repair.

How to help

I have had a lot of people ask me how they can help me and my community.

My community needs funds to help people get back into their homes. We are raising these funds through our GIVIT Eugowra Flood Appeal. Our beautiful community will recover from this natural disaster, but it going to take a lot of time, funds and hard work. We will get back to being the vibrant village community that was here before the flash flood event.

I need help to get my businesses back on track. There is enough stock of coffee table books and calendars to relocate my home if I can sell them all, so please share my online store with your friends, family and network.

There is also my Little Farmers Store. Thankfully all the stock survived unharmed so it is ready to go. Christmas is the perfect time to go shopping at the Little Farmers Store, please also share with your friends, family and networks. I would dearly love a hand up through getting my businesses back on track.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading it all! It was quite hard to put pen to paper and write this out but I do feel better for it now. Thanks to everyone who has sent messages and have called, it has meant a lot.

Kim xx

Like Eugowra, individual communities and states are running their own fundraisers and support campaigns, such as Spend Your Support and the Greater Shepparton fund. There are numerous appeals and even organisations like Rural Aid and the Victorian Farmers’ Federation disaster fund specifically helping farmers get back on track. Feel free to add links to other campaigns in the comments. Remember every time you donate, shop, eat and stay in impacted regions, it goes a long way to help the community.

Kim Storey

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