News

'We're not heroes' say men who saved 13 in Debbie floodwaters

John Lawrence, Shyam Bryan and Johnny Norris helped rescue 13 people from the flooded Greenhills Caravan Park in South Murwillumbah.
John Lawrence, Shyam Bryan and Johnny Norris helped rescue 13 people from the flooded Greenhills Caravan Park in South Murwillumbah. Nikki Todd

THREE men have been labelled heroes after they helped rescue 13 people - including two men clinging to a light pole - from swirling flood waters at a South Murwillumbah caravan park.

Piercing screams for help, loud enough to be heard above the howling rain being dumped by ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie in the early hours of Friday, March 31, drew Johnny Norris, 33, and John Lawrence, 22, from their respective homes close to the Greenhills Caravan Park. There they ran into Shyam Bryan, 34, a resident of the park of eight months, who had just evacuated his young son to higher ground at the nearby Tweed Regional Art Gallery.

"It would have been around 2am. I heard yells for help," said Mr Norris, a father of three who lives across the road.

"We phoned the SES but they were pretty much back-logged, they couldn't get down here.

"I wandered down and ran into these two boys in front of the house adjacent to the two gentlemen clinging onto the pole.

"The current was pretty strong, we didn't want to swim out there."

 

An aerial shot of Greenhills Caravan Park (foreground) on April 1, a day after the big inundation.
An aerial shot of Greenhills Caravan Park (foreground) on April 1, a day after the big inundation. Tweed Shire Council

It was then they noticed a tinny floating at a nearby house, turned upside down by the torrential rain and flooding through the area.

"One of them had a (torch) light," Mr Bryan said. "They were screaming out for help. We could hear them yelling and we could see the light through the houses.

"We had to get them, they were desperate. I couldn't just watch people die."

Using their hands and a shovel as paddles before Mr Lawrence ran home to find a kayak paddle, the men manoeuvred the boat through the flood waters to the light pole. There they found Jamie Bolton, 39, and Ron Lee (aka Billy Badluck) clinging to the pole in water up to 3m deep.

Jumping into the water, the men managed to haul the two exhausted men into the boat.

"Luckily they came along ... or we'd be dead," Mr Bolton said. "I'd been clinging to the pole for 1.5 to two hours, I don't know how much longer I could've held on for."

 

GUARDIAN ANGELS: Jamie Bolton thanks Johnny Norris, John Lawrence and Shyam Bryan for saving him after he clung to the light pole, 3 metres above the ground, for more than 1.5 hours in the swirling floodwaters.
GUARDIAN ANGELS: Jamie Bolton thanks Johnny Norris, John Lawrence and Shyam Bryan for saving him after he clung to the light pole, 3 metres above the ground, for more than 1.5 hours in the swirling floodwaters. Nikki Todd

After depositing the two men on safe ground, the three heroes went back in, this time to save more residents - standing on the roof of their cabins - who had ignored earlier orders by the SES to evacuate the park. "I think it was a rude shock to a lot of residents that woke up to water coming into their cabins and their vans," Mr Norris said.

The men went on to rescue a couple from New Zealand, and their bird, as well as a family of four, including two children. They later returned to get a young couple before returning for the park owner, his mother and his partner, making it 13 people in total.

"It's astounding what these guys did," said Julie Maloney, a park resident who evacuated earlier that night. "They have done an amazing job and deserve to be honoured. They are playing it down but it is a really big thing."

 

Julie Maloney was a resident of Greenhills Caravan Park on the night of the flood. She believes the three men should be recognised fro their heroic actions.
Julie Maloney was a resident of Greenhills Caravan Park on the night of the flood. She believes the three men should be recognised fro their heroic actions. Nikki Todd

But the men rejected being labelled heroes.

"I'm sure anyone else would've done the same thing in that situation," Mr Norris said.

"What do you do, just let them drown? You've got to try something. We were just lucky there was a boat and three of us urging each other on."

Born in Murwillumbah and no stranger to floods, Mr Bryan said the storm had made him uneasy all day.

"I purposely drunk six coffees just so I would stay up all night," he said.

"The whole day I felt off, I knew something was a bit weird. I was making sure I was checking every corner of the park, everyone else just felt they would be alright and would just ride it out.

"I've lived through floods but nothing like this one - this was just crazy, it was off the charts."

Mr Lawrence, another Murwillumbah native who has lived through many floods, said they had been lucky that night, as they contended with swirling floodwaters and live power lines.

"Looking back it is a bit of a shock," Mr Lawrence said.

"I wouldn't think I would've been doing that that night. I reckon we are really lucky, especially the guys on the pole there, they are really lucky. This place was lit up - everything was on. The main concern was the power."

Sadly, the men learned the following day of the death of Marc Austin, 45, a resident of the park whose body was found in his caravan.

This is just one of the stories in our 132-page special publication, Defying Debbie - a book honouring those who stepped up and fought back when Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie and its aftermath smashed two states.

All proceeds will go to the official recovery effort. Grab your copy from a participating newsagency or by calling 1300 361 604 to order direct over the phone (open between 8am-5pm Monday to Friday). Please note a $4 postage fee applies for phone orders. 

Topics:  cyclone debbie defying debbie editors picks flood heroes greenhills caravan park south murwillumbah tweed flood



Call to make murals major tourist attraction wins support

Former Tweed Mayor Max Boyd has dedicated his life to public service.

Former Tweed mayor's mural project gains support.

Local wants movie ban following Aquaman's arrival

WATCHING ON: Ted Brambleby, from The Adventure Education Museum at Hastings Point, wants filming for movies banned from the environmentally sensitive point.

Marine biologist wants Tweed to ban movies at Hastings Point.

Kings Forest koala walk planned for this weekend

Team Koala Tweed has been a vocal critic of proposed amendments to the Kings Forest Estate Koala Management Plan.

TEAM Koala invites community to rally against Kings Forest

Local Partners

Channing Tatum’s cheeky $2400 sex toy prank

ALWAYS the prankster, Channing Tatum decided he would go all out after wrapping his latest movie.

Still downloading Game of Thrones? Expect a letter

You mean to tell me HBO want to protect one of the world’s most popular shows?

HBO title holds record as most illegally downloaded show

Sam Newman's Footy Show performance baffles panel

Sam Newman on the Footy Show

“Cat got your tongue tonight has it?”

OJ Simpson loses cool as he begs to go free

Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectables sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.

Tension at the parole hearing didn't stop OJ going free

Lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, dies age 41

Coroner spokesman Brian Elias says they are investigating Bennington's death as an apparent suicide but no additional details are available.

Chester Bennington's body was found in LA at 9am local time.

Chester Bennington’s tragic Chris Cornell connection

Bennington sings at Chris Cornell’s funeral on May 26 in Los Angeles. Picture: AP

Bennington reportedly godfather of one of Cornell’s three children

Holy schnit: This steak's the size of a small child

WHAT A STEAK: Sarah Atkins was amazed to see the Pinnacle Pub crumbed steak was bigger than one of her four-month-old twin daughters, Jorja.

It's not every day you get served a steak as big as a baby

Island resort living from just $250 a week

Couran Cove on Stradbroke Island is undergoing a makeover. Photo: Steve Holland

Resort offering permanent rentals at almost half normal rental price

New era for stunning historic Rocky venue

St Aubins Village, West Rockhampton.

St Aubins Village reopens to the public after years of closure.

Cashed-up investors driving Ipswich's luxury housing market

SOLD: Elia Youssef bought a home on Hilton Drive Camira for $830,000.

New wave of interstate investors and young super savers in town

Boom or bust? '5.5 million moving into retirement'

National Seniors said that the inequalities with the retirement sector are "a big problem and it's a growing problem".

"It's a big problem and it's a growing problem."