AS a river of water the volume of an Olympic swimming pool burst through the front doors and down the hallways in the dark of the morning, terrified Elermore Vale residents thought it might have been a natural disaster.
It was pitch black, children were hysterical and a torrent of water showed no sign of letting up.
“We had to get out,” said Becky Anderson, who woke to water lapping her bedroom window sometime after 3am.
“I didn’t know what was going on – I looked outside and it wasn’t raining, there was no storm, but there was water everywhere.”
During these frantic few moments at least 15 families in the Taurus Street townhouse complex were weighing up their next move.
The 1950s water main that burst at the top of the complex let out an initial wave of water, a powerful wave due to a build up of pressure, and was consistently flowing until it was turned off on the arrival of Hunter Water crews about 4am.
Some residents escaped without hassle. Others, however, were trapped inside.
Ms Anderson struggled to get her nine-year-old daughter to safety, as the force of the water blocked the back door from opening and threw furniture over the room.
“We were lucky firefighters were able to push open the door,” she said.
“I don’t know how they did it but they did it. They saved us.”
Next door, a mother and her two children had to dunk their heads to escape from underneath a blown-out window.
The damage to the back wall of that townhouse was a spectacular sight.
Even more spectacular, residents said, was how they banded together.
Mother Carlie Hassam waded through the water to get her neighbours to safety, as her children were calmed and taken care of by others.
“It was incredible,” Ms Hassam said.
“It was like a waterfall through your home. You rush to pick up a few belongings, but there wasn’t much time for it at all.”
Another resident, Nick Millard, said the ordeal was “unbelievable” and had put him in a state of shock for hours.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, ” he said.
“You wake up and there’s just a river running through the hallway.
“It’s lucky the [firefighters] pulled the doors open or we would have been stuffed.
“I still can’t believe this is happening.”
The townhouses in the back block of the Taurus Street complex, which is on low ground, had the worst damage.
However, townhouses higher up to the street and in the direct path of the water main also reported extensive damage.
Margarita Rickard said the “roaring” wall of water had spared nothing in her house.
“It’s like a mini-disaster zone,” she said.
“All of these houses along here are totally ruined – the walls are ruined, the carpets are ruined, all our furniture is ruined.
“You wonder how we’re going to bounce back.”
Mrs Rickard said looking outside the window was “like looking into a fish tank”.
“There was nothing anyone could do – nothing could be saved,” she said.
“It’s daunting to think about what we’re going to do next.”