The South Coast Storm Event – Christmas 2023

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On Christmas night the South Coast area experienced a severe weather event. It is yet to be determined exactly what it was but there has been photos and videos showing a tornado ripping through the landscape. The wind experienced at my own home in Upper Coomera was incredible with furniture being blown across the back yard, our garden shed smashed and flying through the air and our back gates ripped from the secure pins and bent in half.

Soon after the winds stopped, I was able to go out onto the street to look at the damage. Multiple trees were down and blocking roads through the estate so with the assistance of neighbours, we started to clear the roads to allow vehicles access. The phone calls soon started with Brigades reporting severe damage in their areas. One station was completely blocked off by multiple trees and power lines down across their street and the driveway into their station. Throughout Christmas night, RFS crews were immediately in their areas surveying the damage and reporting back the amount of debris and power lines that were on the ground.

The next morning, Boxing Day, the RFS was requested to assist the State Emergency Service (SES) with attending to multiple requests for assistance from residents across the Logan, Scenic Rim and Gold Coast LGA’s. It was quickly becoming evident of how much and how wide spread the damage was due to the weather event. An Incident Management Team was established at the Incident Control Centre at the South Coast Area office with Divisional Commanders assigned to the three LGA’s to support RFS operations. There was also RFS Liaison Officers stood up at the SES command stations at Logan, Tamborine Mountain and the Gold Coast Disaster Management Unit. Extra equipment was acquired to support the operations with the South East Region Chainsaw Trailer deployed to a Divisional Command post. There were also portable toilets, industrial size fans, generators, drinking water, hydration drinks and other supplies sent out to the Divisions and crews.

The immediate response from the RFS was attending to the taskings from SES by residents that logged their requests for assistance through the SES phone line or SES app. Tasking and Management System (TAMS) taskings were given to the RFS Liaison Officer and then sent to the IMT to distribute to the appropriate Divisional Commander and then allocated to the crews on the ground. Once the taskings were completed by the crews on the ground, this information was fed back to the RFS Liaison who was imbedded with an SES TAMS Operator and the information would be uploaded directly to TAMS. Whilst challenges were faced with the sheer amount of workload, the RFS was able to work closely with the SES to dispatch crews to help remove debris from streets, driveways and make areas safe for residents. Volunteer Community Educators (VCE’s) were also heavily involved with conducting door knocks and welfare checks on residents in heavily impacted areas and reported back their findings so that could also be uploaded to TAMS.

Not only was the RFS supporting the SES, but they also played a critical role within their communities. Multiple suburbs from Logan Village/Jimboomba to Tamborine Village/Tamborine Mountain and through to the Gold Coast had no power, no internet or phone reception. Reports of at least 40,000 residents without power were the numbers being advised by local media outlets. Ormeau RFB station was quick to open their station to the community and provide hot showers, washing machine and power outlets for residents to charge their phones. Community members from across the Northern Gold Coast attended Ormeau station which was greatly appreciated by so many. Many other stations also opted to provide this type of support including Beechmont, Lower Beechmont, Guanaba, Woodhill, Tamborine Mountain and several others that I may have not mentioned. Guanaba RFB would also become a Community Hub set up through the City of Gold Coast and the Department of Community Safety to provide the community a safe space and obtain information about what they could provide them. The Guanaba RFB volunteers cooked barbecues for their community so residents that attended the Community Hub could be provided a hot meal.

Eleven RFB stations were without power during the initial storm, and they couldn’t communicate outside of their Brigade area without the use of the GWN radios. As a solution, a 24-hour GWN radio channel was established so the First Officers could communicate with the Area Director and advise of their issues and requests for supplies. Initially there was a feeling that the Brigades were cut off, isolated and the only ones affected by the severe weather but once the GWN radio channel was established, they quickly realized the severity of the incident. From these GWN radio communications, we were able to provide updated information, supplies for the Brigades and generators to power up RFB stations. I must say a very big thank you to A/Superintendent Kaye Healing, A/Chief Superintendent Clinton Newman and Chief Superintendent Tony Johnstone for their quick and efficient supply of generators to assist multiple RFB stations across the South Coast.

The severe weather was not only to affect the South Coast Area on Christmas night but there was a significant rain event on New Years Eve. On New Years Eve there were storm warnings issued for across the South Coast Area. As predicted late that afternoon the rain started to hit many areas, ranging from Jimboomba to the Gold Coast. By the next morning on New Years Day, there was significant flooding in the Scenic Rim and Gold Coast LGA’s. Roads were cut off and waters were rising very quickly throughout the morning. Guanaba RFB only had time to get one of their appliances out of the station before the flood waters rose so quickly, it would have been unsafe for them to go back for the other appliances. Local RFS crews were responded to many calls for assistance and supported FRS crews with a special mention to Numinbah Valley RFB that provided support with the evacuation of campers with FRS Swift Water Rescue crews.

The RFS response to support the SES would continue every day with crews on the ground from 0800 to 1700 until Sunday the 7th of January 2024. This included the IMT, Divisional Commanders and Liaison Officers being stood up for the duration of the response and then the recovery efforts. With the large number of resources from the RFS that were on the ground, there were multiple ‘on the spot jobs’ also completed in response to residents flagging them down and requesting help with clearing driveways or gaining access into and or out of their homes. It was incredible to see so many services from other states including CFA, NSW RFS, VIC SES, NSW SES and of course the local SES crews work together.

The final statistics for the completion of taskings for the RFS:

TOTAL TASKS            
Gold Coast TAMS                                     323            
Gold Coast Field Initiated                    75            
Gold Coast Council Street Check    179            
Gold Coast Council Taskings               62            
Scenic Rim TAMS                                       106            
Scenic Rim Field Initiated                       85            
Logan TAMS                                                   48            
Logan Field Initiated                                 39            
Flood Impact reports GCCC LGA     55            
TOTAL                                                               972    

Wayne Teece

Area Training Support Officer

South Coast Area, Rural Fire Service

 

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