Family rescued from flood in the dark

By Elizabeth Binning

As Karen Hattaway was being swept away by floodwaters, she held her baby son Benjamin above her head and yelled, "Get the baby, get the baby."

Metres away, her partner Jeff Brown was clinging to a tree in the darkness, trying to hold their 3-year-old daughter Vivian in the fast-flowing current.

About 10 minutes earlier, the family had been driving along Tomarata Valley Rd towards Wellsford, trying to get sick 4-month-old Benjamin to the doctor.

It was 3 o'clock yesterday morning, and raining heavily.

Their Mitsubishi Colt car hit extensive flooding and was swept off the rural road before they could react.

"The car just filled up so quick and it took us out," said Mr Brown. "We didn't even get a chance to reverse or anything."

The car spun around and came to rest against a fence, but it was so dark the family did not know where they were.

The car was also filling quickly with floodwater.

"My first reaction was, 'We have got to get out, we are going to go down'," said Ms Hattaway.

The couple climbed into the back seat, took a child each and left the car through a side door. But they were quickly separated in the water.

"I was gasping for breath," said Ms Hattaway. "I tried to swim out towards land but I couldn't find any land so I swam back to the car and was giving Jeff instructions to get to a tree."

Realising the car was no longer safe, Ms Hattaway found the fenceline and clung to it with Benjamin.

Mr Brown and Vivian were several metres away and unable to reach them.

"Me and my daughter, we went under," said Mr Brown. "I had to struggle to swim while holding on to her. It was really tough, hard going.

"I nearly lost my daughter, but I managed to get to a little bit of ground that I could put my feet on."

Mr Brown was standing chest deep in water and clinging to a tree when another vehicle came along the road and the occupants saw his car's headlights in the floodwaters.

Mr Brown said the events that followed were a blur but several people started trying to help the family out of the water.

Ms Hattaway tried to go first but was swept away by the current.

"Karen was drifting off in one big hurry," said Mr Brown. "She was saying, 'Get the baby, get the baby', and was holding him up in the air to keep him out of the water."

As she drifted, people who had come to the scene formed a chain into the floodwaters.

"All I wanted was for them to rescue my children, not me," said Ms Hattaway.

She managed to grab hold of a man's leg as she floated past the rescuers.

Mr Brown and Vivian were still at the tree when nearby sharemilker Chris Brien was woken by screaming.

He ran out and saw the road and surrounding farmland under water.

"I could just see the boot [of the car] sticking out, then I saw they were trying to get a guy and a little girl out of the water."

Mr Brien ran back to his house and returned with a tractor and a rope. One of the rescuers climbed into the bucket of the tractor and was able to reach out to Mr Brown and Vivian.

Firefighters arrived soon after and gave up their jackets to warm the frozen family, who all escaped without any serious injury or health complications.

The family say they questioned many times if they would make it out of the water alive, and are grateful to all the people who risked their safety to help them.

"I'm so glad that there was a lot of helpers there," said Mr Brown.

"That's why I'd like to say thank you, and to the fire brigade, they were really good."

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