The tragedy and triumph of the 1998 floods

A car surfaces in Towradgi Creek after waters subside following the floods of 1998. Picture: Kirk Gilmour
A car surfaces in Towradgi Creek after waters subside following the floods of 1998. Picture: Kirk Gilmour

Between August 16 and 17, 1998, Wollongong really copped it.

On that date in August – which was 20 years ago this week – the city received a drenching.

A whopping 375 millimetres of rain fell over those days, most of it on August 17 – though rain gauges in some suburbs recorded more than 400 millimetres.

The drains across the city simply couldn’t cope and started to back up.

Soon streets in Fairy Meadow, Towradgi, Corrimal and other suburbs resembled rivers.

The waters also rose in the south of the Illawarra, with Port Kembla, Dunmore and Mt Kembla also affected.

In some places the water was waist-high and emergency services had their hands full trying to save those people caught out in the wild weather.

Roads were cut off for days and the rains caused delays on the South Coast line that lasted almost a week.

When the waters receded, the full toll the storms had taken was revealed.

Beaches up and down the coast were covered with sticks, debris and loads of rubbish.

Even a battered Kombi van and a 44-gallon drum were spotted.

Many houses in the Illawarra were wrecked after the waters had inundated properties and damaged furniture and other possessions.

But the worst news was yet to come.

Many insurance companies refused to pay up, claiming the damage was caused by flood and not storms.

It was a kick in the teeth to a city that was already struggling – but the city wasn’t going to take that.

People banded together for mass rallies and protests outside the offices of those insurers, lawyers lent a hand to take legal action and the Mercury kept the pressure on too.

The result was that a number of the companies capitulated and paid out the claims.

While the 20th anniversary may bring back some bad memories of the floods, it also reminds us how powerful the Illawarra can be when we band together and fight.

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