VIDEO: Remembering the Pasha storm

Therese York thought she’d organised everything for her wedding to husband Paul on Saturday, June 9, 2007.

Newcastle Anglican Cathedral was booked for 3pm.

The reception was at Souths.

The gown. The cake. The flowers. The cars. The photographer. The balloon arch. Accommodation for interstate guests. The hairdresser on the morning of the big day. The relaxing manicure.

‘‘It was a wedding for 90 people. We had everything organised,’’ said Therese this week.

VIDEO: The Newcastle Herald remembers the Pasha storm.

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But what they hadn’t counted on was the mother of all storms that hit the NSW coast on June 8, 2007, with Newcastle copping the brunt of it; a storm that continued to rage through that Queen’s birthday long weekend.

And what Therese hadn’t counted on was being upstaged by a ship.

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The grounding of the Panamanian bulk carrier Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach at 9.51am on Friday, June 8, 2007, made international headlines.

It was the most dramatic event on a weekend of tragedy, outstanding heroism, fear, loss, the kindness of strangers and community spirit, played out during an extraordinary sequence of weather conditions.

And among all that, Therese and Paul York were married.

The Pasha Bulker had been stranded for a few hours when Therese and a friend headed for a manicurist near Civic Park at 3pm.

‘‘When we came out the water was way past our knees as we tried to get to the car. Cars were already floating by then,’’ she said.

They made it to Souths at Merewether by 5pm to prepare the wedding reception area.

‘‘We parked up the hill near Merewether RSL because there was already flooding by then,’’ she said.

Paul York joined his future wife at the club, but powerboards in the basement were already under water.

‘‘What I remember is putting glass vases on the tables and they started shattering, by themselves. We were putting them on the tables and they were exploding. About five of them just exploded because of the conditions,’’ Therese said.

Five members of the wedding party were ordered to stay in the club as the storm raged. Early in the morning, when conditions eased, they were allowed to leave.

‘‘At 2.30 in the morning on our wedding day we decided to bolt and get home,’’ she said.

A few hours later she knew the wedding ceremony would go ahead as planned, but a reception at the stricken Souths was impossible.

‘‘I started ringing everywhere I could think of to see if we could move the reception,’’ she said.

By 1.30pm she had booked Newcastle Workers Club. The two clubs worked together in the following hours to give Therese and Paul York a reception to remember.

There was no balloon arch, the glass vases were history and due to short notice the Workers Club menu for the 90 guests was restricted to steak. But the cake arrived from Rutherford without incident, and Therese didn’t mind being upstaged by the Pasha Bulker after her interstate visitors made quick detours to Nobbys.

Like many people, Therese and Paul York compromised, improvised and relied on the goodwill of others.

They even appreciated the Pasha’s extended stay. ‘‘I didn’t get to see it before the wedding because I was so busy. We went to Fiji for two weeks on our honeymoon and the Pasha was still there when we came back so we had a look.’’

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Each year the Pasha Bulker anniversary prompts media interest, and Therese and Paul York receive congratulatory calls from friends.

‘‘As soon as they think of the Pasha Bulker, they think of us,’’ she said.

The storm that hit the east coast of NSW on that weekend five years ago, with its greatest force directed at Newcastle, is recognised as one of the most expensive natural disasters in Australian history. The final damages bill was $1.5 billion.

But the cost does not reflect the overall significance of the storm on the people who lived through it, and on the region’s history. It also does not take account of the lives lost.

Within a few short hours eight people in the Hunter and on the Central Coast died. The following day the toll rose to nine.

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Wayne Bull, 45, of Adamstown, died when he was swept from a car in the swollen Styx Channel at Lambton on June 8.

Robert Jones, 59, and wife Linda, 50, died when their vehicle was washed off a causeway at Clarence Town on June 8.

On the Central Coast Adam Holt, 30, his partner Roslyn Bragg, 29, their children Madison, 3, and Jasmine, 2, and their nephew Travis, 9, died when part of the Old Pacific Highway at Somersby collapsed under their vehicle on June 8.

Nigel Beeston, 29, died at Brunkerville on June 9 when his car was crushed by a falling tree only a kilometre from his parents’ home.

The families of those who died endured the deaths, subsequent investigations, and inquests.

On the anniversary of the Pasha Bulker they remember the loved ones who didn’t make it home.

‘‘I think the anniversary is more a day to get through and it’s a day for people to remember, but for those who lost loved ones, we deal with it every day,’’ said Julie Bull on the first anniversary of her husband Wayne’s death.

Nigel Beeston’s family, who set up a park at Brunkerville in his honour, endured an inquest that concluded his death was a ‘‘freakish accident’’.

‘‘It’s hard every day, every single day, and it changes your life completely. You can never go back to what it was because they’re gone, and you can’t change that,’’ Mr Beeston’s mother Lynda said.

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In June, 2010, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research (CAWCR) – a CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology partnership – produced a report describing the development and progress of the storm.

The report noted that while the ‘‘intense extra-tropical low pressure system’’ that hit the coast was well-predicted by medium range global forecast models some days in advance, ‘‘a number of challenging forecast issues emerged’’.

These included rainfall rates and patterns on extremely short time scales, making flood warnings difficult; and development of a small low-pressure system with an ‘‘eye-like structure’’ that crossed the coastline close to Newcastle shortly after 3pm on June 8. This produced rainfall of 466mm at Mangrove Mountain, and more than 350mm in Newcastle over 36 hours.

Winds on the coast exceeded 45 knots with gusts over 55 knots for most of an 18-hour period. Gust peaks were recorded over 70 knots.

Maximum wave heights of more than 14 metres were recorded.

The Pasha Bulker was enough of an extreme weather event to prompt the NSW regional office of the Bureau of Meteorology to meet in August, 2008, to discuss the storm and how its development could be used to improve forecasting of similar weather.

Many features of the storm ‘‘had not previously been documented’’, CAWCR concluded. Newcastle Port Corporation chief executive Gary Webb was well aware of the extraordinary nature of the storm.

When lives had already been lost, Webb recalls telling his own people: ‘‘We will not lose any lives’’.

The Port Corporation responded to issues raised in later investigations, including an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation. But Gary Webb points to the effectiveness of the incident control system that weekend, and equipment and personnel improvements since, to demonstrate the corporation learnt from the experience.

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It's nearly five years since Karen Cook was stranded in a neighbour’s house at Teralba with her son Tom, then 12, her neighbours, their young children, and raging floodwaters already rushing through the house.

But the passage of time has not erased the emotions of that night, and hearing a 000 operator say there was no one to help them because of the number of emergency calls, and could they get on the roof?

‘‘It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying, and we had young children,’’ Karen Cook said.

The memory of the hours they spent in the dark house while Cockle Creek roared and rose brought back tears this week.

When Karen drove home from work at Glendale after 5pm on June 8 she knew the weather was atrocious.

‘‘We’re across the road from Cockle Creek, and down the back of us is the wetlands, so we were inundated from both sides,’’ she said. ‘‘Cockle Creek was raging. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen.’’

Floodwaters quickly cut off road exits.

‘‘Tom and I were a bit panicked. But even as we lifted things up before we went up to our neighbour’s house I wasn’t really thinking that water would go through.’’

By the time they left for their neighbour’s house, water was lapping at the back door.

It wasn’t long before the neighbour’s house was also threatened. Water was ankle deep and rising extremely quickly when they rang 000.

The power went, the water rose, Karen Cook and her neighbours knew climbing onto the roof with children as young as three in a raging storm was not an option.

The neighbour’s husband wrestled his boat through the water and tied it to a point on the house. If the house became unstable as the wild water rose, at least they had a boat, Karen said.

Water was deep through the house when emergency crews reached them by boat. It wasn’t until 6am on June 9 that her parents located Karen Cook and her son at an evacuation centre.

Her home had been inundated. Water ran through it at more than waist height.

Exactly one year after the Pasha Bulker, on the Queen’s birthday long weekend of 2008, Karen and Tom Cook returned home after living with her parents.

Her house had been lifted by a metre, and its interior gutted and rebuilt.

The events of that night took a toll. Tom Cook had nightmares. Karen Cook was ‘‘anxious’’. ‘‘I think anxious is the right word.

‘‘I was just very emotional about the whole thing. I would see people who live in the area who were part of the rescue and every time, I’d get very emotional because it would all come back.

‘‘We lost everything, and I found it very hard to accept people’s charity, but the fact is that people wanted to help, and we weren’t even the worst off.’’

Karen Cook is a friend of Therese York. She didn’t make it to the wedding.

‘‘I couldn’t go to Therese’s wedding because I’d just lost everything, but we were alive.’’

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