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“Every time it’s flooded it’s gotten higher and higher,” said April Harley, 38, a resident of Camden who has experienced four floods in the last four months. “It’s scary.”
The first one, in March, inundated a few houses on her street in the suburb southwest of Sydney. The next one, the next week, went a bit higher. The one in April flooded a few more houses. The most recent one, which peaked on Tuesday, lapped at the driveway of her house.
In March, I wrote about how successive floods over the last two years were taking their toll on residents along the Hawkesbury River. The previous December, we wrote about how the areas that had been affected by the Black Summer bush fires were then being battered by flooding. Residents were desperate for a break from disaster.
Now, I’m in Sydney writing about the latest round of flooding for an article that will publish soon, and it feels like déjà vu.
Some things remain the same from when I covered the March floods. Around the Hawkesbury-Nepean, where I’ve been traveling, residents are again weary and exhausted, but they are rebounding with the no-nonsense attitude they’ve applied to every disaster. Communities have rallied to support one another. Even as residents worry about what the future might bring, they talk about others who have been hit harder and compare each new flood to the worst ones in the area’s history. Essentially, their thinking is: It could always be worse.
But the toll of recurring disasters is starting to show. Some residents have had enough and have decided to sell their homes. Others are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to elevate their houses. And while the prospect of another flood was a worrying but somewhat distant possibility the last time around, this time many seem to be counting down the days until the next disaster, with reports of the possible return of La Niña before the end of the year.
The conversation around disaster mitigation has taken on greater urgency. Some experts are calling for the government to offer a plan to buy the most flood-prone homes. Approval for future housing development along the floodplains has come under greater scrutiny, particularly in the Hawkesbury-Nepean area, where the population is expected to nearly double in the next 30 years.
“It’s getting really difficult,” Venecia Wilson said on Friday as she watched emergency workers clear water from the Windsor Bridge in Windsor. The “flood-proof” bridge has become something of an emblem of poor government disaster planning, having flooded numerous times since it was completed in 2020.
Like many locals, Ms. Wilson, who lives in a nearby town, was critical of the speed and scope of development in the area, which increased the number of residents while reducing the ability of the land to absorb water.
“We’ve got so much more people, more hard surfaces, more infrastructure than we ever had before,” she said. “Any flood would have a “much bigger impact than 100 years ago.”
As the sun set, I watched as a two meter-wide section of the Windsor riverbank crumbled into the river, taking a water fountain with it. It was just a few steps from the footpath I was standing on.
A local resident standing next to me mentioned how she’d heard that the La Niña weather system might return in the spring. At least I could prewrite my story for that flood, she joked. “Same thing again.”
“Hope you don’t have to come back in the spring,” she said as she left.
Now for this week’s stories.