FLASH FLOOD RESCUE DRAMA
By JANELLE McLENNAN firstname.lastname@example.org A THIN, weedy branch from a bottlebrush tree was all that stood between Grant Mercer and being drowned in a flash flood that swept down Little Back Creek on Tuesday night.
The 46-year-old man clung to the branch for almost two hours after his car was swept off a causeway near his home 6km west of Kyogle by the storm-swollen floodwater.
"It was the closest thing to dying I've been through," Mr Mercer said yesterday.
"I'm just so grateful to the SES volunteers and the police who rescued me. They were wonderful."
The near-tragedy occurred when Mr Mercer was returning home after picking up his mate's dog Ralph, a two-year-old Jack Russell terrified of lightning, which had fled to a neighbour's house during a storm earlier in the evening.
He had successfully crossed the causeway which was covered in about 20cm of water on his way out, and didn't think he would have any real problems when he returned just five minutes later.
"I was gone no longer than five minutes. The neighbour's place is just 2km away, maybe not that far, and I didn't even get out of the car. I arrived there, opened the door, Ralph hopped in, I waved to my neighbour and left," Mr Mercer said.
"I drove out, I drove back. It took no longer than five minutes.
"I could see the water had come up in that time, maybe another 75-100mm, but I thought it would still be OK." He was wrong. The water had risen much quicker than he could have imagined and was pelting down the creek at a huge speed.
Driving his wife's Magna station wagon, Mr Mercer took a run at the causeway, stalling when the water washed up and hit the engine.
Then the headlights went out and the car started to float. "That's when I got really scared. I was in total darkness.
The car was floating away and I could hear the car crunching into rocks and branches."
The car was swept about 150 metres down the creek before it stopped briefly up against the bottlebrush tree.
Realising it may be his only chance of escape, Mr Mercer climbed out the rear driver's side window.
"Luckily for me, the branch was right against car it was only about 75mm round, but I managed to shimmy up it.
"I called to Ralph. I tried to get him out the window, but he wouldn't come to me. Then the car was swept away again.
"The branch was so thin I thought that if I tried to pull myself higher up, it would break, so I stayed where I was."
Mr Mercer clung to the thin branch, buffeted by logs and debris in the floodwater for about two hours before he was rescued by the SES who had been alerted to his disappearance by his worried partner.
With a guide rope secured to the tree, and another rope around himself, Mr Mercer was pulled to safety through the floodwaters by the SES volunteers, who also rescued Ralph from the car, which was caught in a log jam another 40 metres down the creek.
"I was tempted to leave him (Ralph) there and rescue him when the floodwaters went down, but the SES volunteers were worried he may panic and try and jump out the back window," Mr Mercer said.
"He was sitting up in the driver's seat, high and dry, when they got to him."
Apart from a few scratches, Mr Mercer was not injured. However he says he's learnt a valuable lesson.
"I learned that you don't ever take Mother Nature for granted," he said. "I should have had more respect for the conditions. I will never be that stupid again."
As for Ralph, well the Mercers have decided it's time he went back home to Sydney.
"He's a good dog, but he's been in a few scrapes while he's been here and I think his return to the city will bring a little peace to the valley," Mr Mercer said smiling.