'Swamped' Kiwis cope with floods

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2013

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A group of former Southland residents survived a night sheltering in their cars when a cyclone battering the east coast of Australia cut off road access to an emergency shelter.

Former Invercargill resident Kris Ansell, speaking from Boyne Island, just south of the port city of Gladstone in Queensland, said he and fellow Southlander Matt Peterson and Mr Peterson's family were forced to evacuate their homes in Boyne Island in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The Southlanders found themselves in the path of ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald.

Queensland police and emergency service workers ordered a mandatory evacuation when Lake Awoonga - the main water supply for the Gladstone region - broke, Mr Ansell said.

However, when the Southlanders attempted to make it to an emergency evacuation shelter, they were cut off by floodwaters.

"We couldn't get through to the shelter and we couldn't really go back so we found high ground and spent the night trying to sleep in our cars," he said.

"There were 11 of us, all from Invercargill and Gore, in three cars, including Matt's kids."

Despite the heavy rain and strong winds, everyone remained calm and did their best to look after the children, Mr Ansell said.

Residents of Boyne Island had eventually returned home to flooded homes and cars.

The water levels receded during the night and since Sunday the community had been cleaning up.

"The whole street just got stuck in," he said.

"Out of the disaster there has been an amazing spirit in the community.

"I didn't realise there were so many Kiwis here until we all met cleaning up."

Mr Peterson said his children, Hunter, 8, and Deakon, 7, had coped with the situation very well during a pretty rough 24-hour period

"The kids have been awesome. Typical Southlanders - nothing phases them," Mr Peterson said.

He said his house had suffered carpet and plasterboard damage and it was now considered a fire hazard because some of the wall sockets were swamped by the floodwaters.

Maree Francis, another former Invercargill resident living in Gladstone, said she watched the cyclone hit the city from her fourth floor flat.

"We were fortunate compared to others, the only risk was our windows blowing in. They held firm but the wind and rain were so strong the water forced its way into our flat despite being locked."

The cyclone seemed to hover around Gladstone, dumping an incredible amount of water in what had been described as a once in a 2000-year event, she said.

Meanwhile, former Invercargill resident Ben Tattersfield, who lives on the Gold Coast, was left stranded in Brisbane.

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Mr Tattersfield had caught the train to Brisbane to spend the weekend with his girlfriend before flooding derailed his plans to get back home.

"The trains were cancelled because of flood damage," he said.

He was returning yesterday to his beachfront property and said he hoped there was not too much damage.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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