Wallsend during the 2007 Pasha storm.FLASH-FLOODING can kill, as recent events in the Hunter have demonstrated.
Put enough water into a stream, then prevent it flowing away by introducing some form of blockage, and the water backs up and spreads out, putting lives and property in danger.
In some areas, long intervals between such events mean communities and planning authorities forget, leaving new generations to rediscover the peril next time adverse circumstances conspire.
In other areas, flash-flooding events are frequent enough for the danger to persist in memory, creating deep apprehension when severe storms strike.
Wallsend is the Newcastle suburb most prone to flash-floods, and repeated studies have warned that serious measures need to be taken to reduce the risk as far as possible. Chances are the risk can’t ever be eliminated, given that the Nelson Street shopping strip was built on low-lying ground at a choke-point in the course of Ironbark Creek.
Heavy enough rain in the creek’s catchment can fill Wallsend with water in a surprisingly short time, turning Nelson Street into a raging torrent and sending surges of dirty water through nearby shops and homes.
The 2007 Pasha Bulker storm is the most recent instance of such severe flooding at Wallsend, but it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last, as Newcastle City Council has acknowledged.
Indeed, given its detailed knowledge of what can go wrong at Wallsend, the council can probably count itself lucky that the most recent storm spent the worst of its fury in other areas.
The council has invested some money to reduce the known risks at Wallsend, buying some properties to convert for floodwater detention and setting up a flood warning system.
But it has been obvious for a long time that some larger works were needed and the council has been repeatedly criticised for not moving quickly enough.
At long last the council is putting some options on display, a move that might mean some real action isn’t far off.
The council’s favoured option is to remove two of the three low road bridges over the creek – those at Tyrrell and Boscawen Streets – to eliminate the risk of debris catching against the bridges and causing sudden damming of floodwater. The plan includes upgrading the Nelson Street bridge to handle more traffic and, presumably, to help ensure the free flow of excess water.
It’s now about eight years since the Pasha Bulker storm, and major floods in Wallsend are considered to be a 10- to 15-year risk. The council needs to finalise an option and make a serious start on the work as soon as possible.
The work will be costly, so efforts to get help from other levels of government should continue. But the urgency of the task means it should begin, even if the council has to go it alone.