‘Sandbags saved us from death’
A famous Byron Bay beach was washed away when mammoth swells consumed Main Beach in the exclusive resort town with State Emergency Service workers taking more than 700 calls for help, mainly related to drenched roofs and toppled trees.
There were fears that a king tide was set to peak at about 8.30am today, but Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Helen Reid said the trough is still "quite a long way offshore" and will take a few more hours to hit.
"We have had a lot of rainfall and some gale force winds, coastal warnings and damaging surf," she said.
"This weather at Byron Bay isn't unheard of but it is unusual to have this much rain at once….it will ease off later in the week."
Ms Reid said there may be another high tide by the time more heavy rain hits later today, but that the rainfall is unlikely to reach the heights of Saturday which saw flash flooding inundate the coastal town of Ocean Shores, near Byron Bay.
One local was captured trying to walk along the partially smashed walkway before it collapsed in the ocean. The man fell, but was able to climb back up to safety.
A severe weather warning is in place for damaging winds, heavy rainfall, abnormally high tides and damaging surf in the Northern Rivers, and parts of the Mid North Coast and Northern Tablelands. In the far north, thunderstorms may concentrate heavy deluges and lead to further flash flooding.
Byron Bay has become a favoured tourist destination during the pandemic but there are now fears the rising tides and heavy rains could put some homes at risk.
Managing director of Beach Byron Bay - a restaurant and function venue co-owned by Fink Group's Quay - said it was lucky the headlands and sandbagging had protected his business after a year of dangerous weather.
After the massive swells hit the beach in June, Mr Kirkwood said Byron Bay mayor Simon Richardson lobbied the state government to urgently install a 300 metre sand wall along the beach.
"Without the sandbags, the building would've been lost in the event….we are grateful for having the bags in place because it saved us from death," he said.
"We are lucky in a sense that the damaging weather is coming east and we are protected by the headland...others are taking the full impact of the storm."
Despite the destructive weather, Mr Kirkwood said it was "business as usual" and that hundreds of patrons were flocking to the venue for lunch while "watching mother nature".
Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, television personality Carrie Bickmore, Olivia Newton John and Matt Damon are among the big names who live in the town.
Hollywood star Damon owns a $22 million property near Wategos Beach, not far from the rumoured love nest of actor Zac Efron.
Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Hugh McDowell said the tide would continue to rise in the region in coming days and potentially threaten homes.
"It is … expected to reach 1.8m (on Monday) morning," he said.
Mammoth swells have consumed Main Beach in Byron Bay, with the sand barely visible at the popular tourist destination as waves rise adjacent to the footpath.
Local resident Amelia, who works on the main promenade near Main Beach, says she's never seen tides this high in Byron Bay.
"The tides are really high, especially with the rain. They are all the way up to the footpath, and the waves are splashing on the cars."
She said she has some concerns the huge swells could threaten some of the beachfront properties in the region.
The bureau has warned that "abnormally high tides" could lead to "localised coastal inundation" in Ballina and surrounds.
The rising tides come as wild weather is set to again batter NSW with heavy rainfall sparking flash flooding alerts and evacuations just hours after a powerful weather system lashed the state.
Authorities are urging residents to "expect the unexpected" as a deepening coastal trough brings a renewed risk of flooding this evening with more than 200mm set to pelt down across parts of the state already drenched by rain.
South East Queensland has been hardest-hit by the storm, with 475mm of rain drenching the Gold Coast and waves reaching heights of 10 metres. Limpinwood in far Northern NSW has had the highest falls, with 326mm in 24 hours.
But authorities are warning the worst is yet to come, with a new weather alert issued on Sunday for heavy rainfall, flash flooding, damaging 70km/h winds and dangerous five-metre surf in the Northern Rivers and parts of the Mid North Coast and Northern Tablelands.
Conditions are expected to deteriorate later this evening from around 10pm and through the evening and persist until Tuesday.
⚠️ #Flood Watch updated for NSW Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers. Heavy rainfall forecast for today and into Monday and Tuesday. Minor to moderate flooding possible. See https://t.co/LSH4w1Bz8m for details and updates; follow advice from @NSWSES. #NSWFloodspic.twitter.com/Yl3wK1OaQo— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) December 13, 2020
The Bellinger River is likely to be among the worst-hit, with a Moderate to Major Flood Warning issued.
Tweed Heads, Byron Bay, Lismore, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Nambucca Heads and Kempsey are among the areas affected.
Justin Robertson, flood manager at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) urged residents to be on alert, and "expect the unexpected" because of the risk of rapidly worsening conditions.
"The thing we really need to be aware of is the dynamic weather situation and we could have areas that see much heavier rainfall than our guidance at the moment," he said.
Byron-based surf school operator Gaz Morgan said the swells were big. "The ocean is radical," he said.
Singer Anthony Callea wrote on Instagram that the rain was torrential in Byron.
"Thought we'd head to Byron Bay for the week to soak in some sun and drink cocktails around a pool, but we arrive the week of torrential rains," he wrote.
"Oh well, I needed another reason to just sit around inside drinking cocktails and listening to music full bolt. It's like Melbourne lock down all over again."
The warnings come just hours after flash flooding on Saturday submerged cars and sent residents fleeing to higher ground in the Mid North Coast.
Emergency crews desperately worked to prepare homes for the severe weather event, with crews working through the night sandbagging homes.
The State Emergency Service (SES) has already responded to 700 calls for help, 200 of which were last night alone, mainly relating to drenched roofs and toppled trees.
The wild weather conditions also led to four flood rescues, three of which involved cars stranded in flood waters. Around 20 caravans at Murrumbeena Showground were evacuated to higher ground on Sunday in anticipation of flooding after six homes were on alert for evacuation as floodwaters rose in Sawtell on Saturday.
SES Commissioner Carlene York advised people not to risk driving through flood waters, saying conditions can turn quickly.
"Over the years there have been serious accidents and fatalities in relation to that. So I would remind people to stay out of those waters no matter what they do."
She also urged holiday-goers to not travel to parts of the state that have been gutted by flooding.
"We're reminding those on holidays. Be very careful where you're going to, plan ahead."
SES spokesman David Rankine said it was "bemusing" people continued to risk their lives and the lives of volunteers by travelling through floodwaters.
"People don't know the depths of some of these waters … and even for the biggest 4WD it only takes 60cm of fast-flowing water to float a vehicle and wash it away," he said.
The heavy rainfall and flooding is expected to continue until Tuesday. The SES is warning residents in Sydney's inner west about the risk of flash flooding along the Cooks River in coming days.
For emergency help in flood and storms, call NSW SES on 132 500, if the situation is life-threatening call triple-0 (000) immediately.
Originally published as 'Sandbags saved us from death'