Anger mounts over Wollongong storm plan

Tourists brave Wednesday's heavy rain as they visit Wollongong Lighthouse on Flagstaff Hill. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Tourists brave Wednesday's heavy rain as they visit Wollongong Lighthouse on Flagstaff Hill. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

• More rain in store for Illawarra

Almost 16 years after floods devastated parts of Wollongong in 1998, some vulnerable parts of the city still do not have working risk management plans to deal with heavy rain.

Some of the homes and businesses worst hit by Monday night's flooding are in the mid-northern suburbs, between Bulli and Bellambi Point.

In a sad twist, the floodplain management plan for this Collins Creek catchment area is now on display at Wollongong, Corrimal and Thirroul libraries, part of the consultation process before the plan is finalised.

Several floodplain management plans have been finalised since 1998, and significant flood mitigation works have been undertaken in some of the areas worst-hit by the flooding then. These areas include the Fairy Creek, Mullet Creek and Allans Creek catchments.

But the management plan for the Wollongong City catchment, which includes the southern end of Kembla Street, is still only at the study stage. This is despite the area flooding seriously in February 2012.

A Wollongong City Council spokesman said the report was being written.

A swimmer at Austinmer Beach promenade watches as a storm cloud approaches on Wednesday. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

A swimmer at Austinmer Beach promenade watches as a storm cloud approaches on Wednesday. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

"A copy of the draft preliminary report is currently being prepared," he said.

"Following feedback from key stakeholders including residents, council will place this report on public exhibition."

Once a plan is developed, it may still take significant time before the plans are implemented.

"Its implementation will be dependent on funding from council, as well as state and federal governments," the latest Collins Creek floodplain study newsletter says.

Among the recommendations in the Collins Creek plan is installation of a debris control structure near the Bulli cemetery at Woonona, one of eight such structures identified as "high priority". This would help stop debris from blocking a creek and causing it to flood.

The "urgent priority" recommendation in the plan is to implement controls over development, using flood data to assist in limiting development.

Lawrence Street, Woonona resident Katharina Hluschka and her daughter Kathy Cooper. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Lawrence Street, Woonona resident Katharina Hluschka and her daughter Kathy Cooper. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

This would be welcomed by Kathy Cooper, whose mother and sister live in Lawrence Street, Woonona, near the proposed debris blocker.

Her mother Katharina Hluschka, 87, saw her carpet and furniture destroyed when almost a foot of water went though the house early on Tuesday.

Ms Cooper said after being flooded in 1998, her mother couldn't sleep when there was heavy rain, such was her fear. On Monday night she had to be rescued by her daughter, who lives next door.

Ms Cooper said flooding was much worse as the area had become more developed, and while there were proposals to widen the creek after 1998, it had not eventuated.

Across the road, Susan Gal believed the flooding would not have been as bad if council had cleared the creek of plant matter and rubbish.

But she said even with clearing, the pipes that carried the water from the creek on Lawrence Street were not wide enough to accommodate heavy flows.

According to the council, even if all the flood plans were complete, it would be nearly impossible to prevent flooding in the most at-risk areas.

Muddy waters from Hewitts Creek empties out onto McCauleys Beach. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Muddy waters from Hewitts Creek empties out onto McCauleys Beach. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

"The nature of Wollongong with multiple steep creek systems coming off the escarpment means that we can get acute short-term flooding at numerous points in the catchment," the council spokesman said.

On Lawrence Street, water rose almost to the roof of a parked car, partly submerged several others, and flooded at least two houses on Monday night.

Mrs Gal suggested high seas and overdevelopment contributed to Tuesday's flooding, estimating "at least a thousand" units had been built between her home and the escarpment since she moved in in 1966.

"Some of this flooding can be mitigated by changes to infrastructure but some is chronic and can only be addressed by looking at the development that exists and occurs in these areas," Mrs Gal said.

"More than anything it's the size of the culverts.

"As more units got built - up on Campbell Street and Popes Lane area - the height and width of the [creek] water increased," she said.

She said she had experienced a one-in-100-year flood and a one-in-300 year flood but, until Tuesday, had never seen the water rise 30 centimetres up the fence that separates her property from the creek.

Related reading

Heavy rains hit the South Coast - photos

City's littering problem won't wash away

Sewage flows into streets after deluge

Households, school caught in Bulli flood

Illawarra highway treated like 'bush track'

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop