Family lives to tell tale
"EXTREMELY traumatic" is how Lisa Steller described her recent brush with death.
She had just turned down Noosa Rd from O'Keefe St, heading towards the Bruce Hwy, when she realised just metres ahead flash flooding had turned the road into a fast-flowing torrent.
Mrs Steller did all she could to avoid driving into the water, but it was not enough.
The family station wagon was washed downstream, with water rising in the car and the family struggling to get out alive.
With news of floodwaters claiming the life of Roma woman Jane Sheahan last week, Mrs Steller has come forward with her story of survival after the family's ordeal. She understood what Mrs Sheahan must have gone through while trying to save her son in the moments before she was swept away.
The family did not see the water two Sundays ago when Mrs Steller was driving her husband, Manasa Drodrolagi, to the airport at 4am. Her sons Connor, 14 and Jesse, 5 were also in the car.
"It just looked like bitumen," she said.
"The car aquaplaned down into the water and started to float towards a drop-off.
"Connor was a hero on the day," she said.
The only thing Mrs Steller could think to do when her Toyota Camry station wagon was being swept away was to open the car door to let some water in and stop it from floating - something her father had taught her
Her son Connor jumped up on the roof and grabbed his brother Jesse, who had water up to his chest by this time, while his parents struggled to get his seatbelts off.
"By then it was coming in naturally through cracks. I have just recovered from breast cancer treatment and with the strong current did not think I would be able to swim out."
Luckily she was able to touch the ground, but the water was up to her waist and rising fast. The car was almost completely submerged in about 10 minutes.
Mr Drodrolagi grabbed Jesse, now shivering and in shock, and Mrs Steller grabbed Connor. They managed to walk out of the floodwater only to find just ahead the road was flooded even worse and they were stuck on an "island" while waiting for emergency services.
A couple who lived near by raised the alarm. They told the family the road flooded all the time.
Still shocked, they went back to the spot the following day to find the water had dropped as suddenly as it came up.
Mrs Steller said if there were flood signs or markers she might have stopped in time.
"I'm a country girl. I would never drive through a flooded road. It was a complete accident. There's skid marks on the road where I tried to stop. I wasn't speeding," she said.
Mrs Steller is not sure whether the signs were stolen, but said there needed to be permanent signage between O'Keefe St and the section of road that flooded "regularly". "Stealing flood signs is akin to manslaughter," she said this week.
Her family was "lucky" to get out alive. "This could have been the end of everybody."
Yesterday Deputy Mayor Tony Perrett said he was looking into whether the signs had been stolen.
He said Noosa Rd was known to flash flood and was on Gympie Council's "standard operational plan" for flood signage when it rained heavily.
"Ordinarily as soon as we are aware of flooding we get the signs out to warn people. The problem is sometimes we can only get to one side," he said.
Mr Perrett acknowledged Noosa Rd went under more than other roads and would look into whether permanent depth markers could be installed.
He said it was important people did not drive into floodwater, but agreed it would have been hard for Mrs Steller to see the water.
"When it's wet we have to be extra careful. People need to be aware it does happen."
Mr Perrett said there were a large number of roads in the region that were subject to flooding when it rained heavily.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. Ten centimetres of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars and may cause loss of control and stalling.
- If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground, if you can do so safely. Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded - roads and bridges may have weakened and could collapse.
- Two feet of water will carry away most vehicles.