NSW floods: The night floods forced 28 children to sleep over in their school library

Jen Clark was too worried to sleep on Friday night. Rapidly rising floodwaters in Australias New South Wales had forced her eight-year-old son Kai and 27 of his schoolmates to spend the night in their school library, burrowing under blankets donated by neighbours.
He wasnt used to sleeping without her nearby. He was scared. And as water and wind lashed the town, she didnt know how long he would be stranded. You feel so helpless, even though theyre very reassuring at the school, she said.

The teachers could not have been more supportive, and there was plenty of love. They stayed up all night with the kids and made them feel safe. It doesnt stop your maternal urge to want to have your son with you.

Students at Kendall Public School, near Port Macquarie on the NSW Mid North Coast, had barely begun their lessons on Friday when the principal sent word to parents that a nearby river was rising rapidly and the crossing would soon be cut off.


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Parents on the other side of the river tried to get to the school but within half an hour, it was too late. Authorities decided it would be safer for the students - some as young as five - to remain at school than to try to ferry them home.

Thirteen school staff - including many who had their own young children at home - stayed to look after them. The children hunkered down in the library, playing games, doing puzzles and reading stories.

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Jen Clark with her eight-year-old son Kai who spent the night in the library of his school due to floodwaters.

The canteen coordinator also stayed on site to cook dinner. All the children have finished a nice meal of chicken nuggets, lasagne and lovely fruit, read a Facebook message sent to parents shortly before 8pm.

The children are all watching a video and are all safe and happy.

Parents could speak to their children over the phone. Jess Roccas daughter Jordan Marden turned seven on Friday, but instead of coming home and eating cake and opening presents, she was stuck at school.

Just got off the phone to her and her only concerns are whats for dinner (fussy eater) and if the water recedes before tonight (it wont) can she please still stay, Rocca wrote on Facebook.

[Shes] acting like shes got her very own birthday slumber party, loving the attention.

At 9pm (local time), teachers messaged parents again. All very quiet here in the library everyone, they wrote. Almost all asleep and very settled. You should all be very proud of your children as they have coped so well.

They slept on gym mats, blow-up mattresses and camp beds, with blankets, sleeping bags and pillows donated by neighbours. They had Weet-Bix for breakfast and chips, scallops and sausages donated by local takeaway shops for lunch.

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Caleb Marden walks his daughter Jordan across the river after she spent the night at the school

Dinghies began taking parents across the river to the school on Saturday afternoon. By early evening, all the children had been picked up. There were crushing cuddles, tears of relief, and deep gratitude.

There was a staff anggota whose home was underwater in North Haven, said Clark. Some of the other teachers have children of their own, the principal has young children, but they chose to stay and support the kids.

The schools principal, Alison Jenner, the community rallied around the school, and loaned blankets, sleeping bags and blow-up mattresses to the students. Some children were worried, and some were excited about an impromptu school sleep-over.

We were concerned about our little ones, especially our [kindergarten students], she said. There were a few little ones that were worried about being away from their parents. We talked to the children about what was happening.

I dont know whether any staff got too much sleep, they were double checking those who were worried and keeping them pretty close. I cant speak highly enough of them, or the community.

Kai told his mother he had been scared during the night, as the rain and wind howled, and they could see the rising and swelling of the river, but his teachers stayed by his side to calm him down.

The teachers are so well-equipped with their ability to rally around the kids and build their resilience, Clark said.

My son told me of several conversations where they sat and talked to him about how he was going. Where do you go to actually give gratitude and thanks to the teachers who would have their own frightened children in their own homes?


Sydney Morning Herald

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