They came in quickly and unleashed their fury. The severe storms that lashed Eastern Australia through April and May last year included a dumping of up to 300 millimetres of rain in just 24 hours on the NSW Hunter Valley and Mid North Coast alone, causing major floods and leading to widespread damage and loss of life.
In times of disaster, it is uplifting to see people rally to help their colleagues and communities, says David Southwell, EPSA’s General Manager, Rental.
“I am proud of how resourceful our team were in such difficult times. The local knowledge of staff, coupled with their resilience and determination, helped a community manage through one of the worst storms in their lifetime.”
This is the story of Patrick and Ed who, together with assistance from the wider EPSA team, stayed focused to get the job done. Patrick Walters who was based in the tiny Hunter village of Largs and was “flying solo” when the emergency calls came in from customers up and down the region, found help “just down the freeway” with EPSA colleague Ed Barnes.
As the situation worsened, it became a “mad scramble,” says Patrick. He saw roads, bridges and fences washed away as he was “forced to use local knowledge to navigate alternative routes in order to get generators to where they were needed”.
“It was taking around three hours to get cables to some locations instead of the usual 20 minutes and it became a logistical nightmare. At one point, I was purely fielding phone calls and forwarding them to the Sydney team just to turn around the workload amongst all the chaos.
“Even whilst Sydney was also being significantly affected by the storms, I was lucky to have cables running up and down the F1,” he says, referring to the freeway that links Sydney and Newcastle.
“We even called in Westrac personnel to source extra cables from their local branches too.”
As the storms took hold over the Hunter region, “the first call I had was from PLE Contracting, who work for Opal Aged Care,” says Patrick. “We immediately mobilised to deliver Cat gensets for emergency back up power at three of their local sites. The generators and cable sets were in action for 48 hours at each site.
“We also supplied two 100kVA units for Shell service stations at Kurri Kurri and Freemans Waterhole, a 500kVA unit for Coles at Kincumber and two units for Hunter Water—a 450kVA set at Belmont and 500kVA set at Toronto. Forgacs Shipyard at Tomago took a 450kVA unit, and we serviced businesses as far away as Bateau Bay and Dee Why with 1,500kVA gensets, which was all we had available as the storms worsened.
“Our Sydney and Brisbane teams helped by sending us machines, including one for Tanks Solutions who manufacture storage tanks for fuel, chemical, water, waste and sewerage. The biggest challenge was the logistics of getting equipment from wherever we could source it. I literally had to direct tow truck drivers on how to navigate the back roads—the only ones still open.”
“Every client we serviced during the floods had lost power. There are all sorts of issues that arose in the aftermath and it could have been a great deal worse if we hadn’t been able to help so many customers in time.”
For Patrick, the floodgates at Wallis Creek eventually opened and he, too, was stuck, so he grabbed his “tinny” and helped ferry food and people around his local area.
“It was a very full-on time. I have relatives in Dungog (one of the worst- affected areas) and they had water up to their chests inside their home. I couldn’t even get in to help them, but I am proud of the way I could rely on the wider EPSA network to deliver the best service we could and get equipment to where it was needed most. When you have facilities like aged care homes that need urgent power for medical reasons, you just make it happen.”