‘I had to do something’: Eugowra grandmother saves daughter and newborn from flood

A retired nurse has told of having to hoist her daughter and six-day-old granddaughter into a roof cavity to save them from raging Eugowra floodwaters and urging her elderly neighbour, now missing, to get inside his home.

Anne South in 2018.Credit:Facebook

Anne South said the last time she saw next-door neighbour Les Vugec, 85, was on Monday morning when he yelled out as a wall of water rushed towards their homes and she told him to “run into his house”.

“I couldn’t help him,” South said of Vugec from her room in Orange Hospital on Thursday as she battled a bout of pneumonia worsened by the ordeal. “He was really feeble on his feet.”

But she was able to help her daughter, Kirralee, and her daughter’s newborn baby, Jennifer, as well as her friend, who was unable to walk due to a degenerative condition, by lifting them all to a safe height.

South said she got her friend onto the kitchen bench, stacked a stool on a table and opened the ceiling manhole to get her daughter and the infant into the roof cavity.

“I started to panic because when she got up there, I realised there was no way to get out of there,” she said. “Everything was happening really fast … the water was rising.”

Diane Smith, 60, and Ljubisa “Les” Vugec, 85, both went missing on Monday morning.

South said the water rose to her chin while she was standing on the floor, and she then stood on a stool for at least five hours while her daughter phoned emergency services from the ceiling cavity, adding “I was standing up, talking to her, trying not to let her panic”.

“We were waiting for a chopper, doing a lot of swearing and yelling, hoping someone could find us, [but] we were inside, not outside on the roof,” she said. “When they found us, they had to break into the roof to get my daughter and her baby out.”

South said emergency crews eventually pushed through the front door to rescue her and her friend once the water had subsided. She said another of her daughters had also been washed down the street by the flash flooding but had been helped to safety.

South, 68, who had lived in Eugowra for 20 years, said she’d never seen anything like the deadly flood that left the town’s 700 residents with no time to respond, and which ripped some homes from their foundations while laying waste to others.

The Eugowra Newsagency and Supermarket on Thursday.Credit:Rhett Wyman

South said her house was still standing, although vehicles belonging to her and her husband were now stacked on top of one another.

The flood also claimed the life of well-loved local woman Diane Smith, 60, who co-owned the local supermarket and newsagency.

As of Thursday night, Vugec was still missing.

South described her neighbour as a “lovely man” who had more recently come from Sydney and had a dog he loved. “He didn’t potter around too much because he wasn’t too good on his legs. He used to go up to the club every day, and have a beer and come back,” she said.

South, who formerly worked in a nursing home, said she used to give him eggs and the pair chatted on occasion. “The last time I saw him I was just trying to get him to run into his house fast,” she said.

South said: “I feel very depressed because I couldn’t save him. “There wasn’t a lot I could do, I was trying to save my daughter and my friend,” she said. “I had to do something.”

South’s sister, Karen Howell, said that although her sister wouldn’t describe herself as such, she was her hero. “I believe God has his hand in helping them. It’s a miracle,” she said.

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