Kate Fotheringham and Wayne Bell on Gloucester Road in Wingham, NSW on Monday. ‘It took three months to plan the wedding, 12 hours for it go to hell and six hours for it come together again,’ Fotheringham says. Photograph: Amanda Hibbard
Kate Fotheringham’s wedding plans didn’t include a natural disaster, but even that wasn’t going to stop the ceremony
The Guardian-Royce Kurmelovs
When Kate Fotheringham promised her husband-to-be she wouldn’t be late to their wedding ceremony she could not have guessed a once-in-a-century flood might keep them apart.
On Saturday morning, Kate woke up to a nightmare when rising flood waters on the New South Wales mid-north coast left her trapped at her parents’ home just outside the regional town of Wingham.
After a sleepless night, Kate woke at dawn and looked out to see mist surrounding the property.
With daylight, it quickly became clear it was actually water, and the deluge had submerged the only bridge to town where she was due to marry her fiance, Wayne, at 3pm sharp.
“It took three months to plan the wedding, 12 hours for it go to hell and six hours for it come together again,” Kate said. “I had accepted the fact it was going to be raining and I was wearing gumboots, but I didn’t know how I was going to deal with a one-in-a-hundred-year flood and a natural disaster.”
“I did have a bit of a meltdown – a bit of a cry – and said this just wasn’t funny anymore. This just sucks. Then I think I also said: we’re just going to have deal with this.’”
“Today’s the day.”
The couple set about doing the impossible and planning a complex logistical operation to extract Kate and her family from her parents’ home and get them to the venue on time, as planned.
At first, the couple considered sending a boat, but her then-fiance ruled it out citing safety concerns. For a time they considered how they might get hold of a high rail car to exploit the rail line that ran past her parents’ house, but that plan was quickly abandoned.
Eventually, they settled on their only option: an emergency airlift.
Together they began working the phones to find a helicopter company willing to make the trip – and it was at that point Kate called out for help on social media.
The breakthrough came when a local television station rang to offer a rescue – an offer Kate was all too willing to accept. Not long after, confirmation came that an Affinity helicopter was on its way from Port Macquarie and they had just 50 minutes to pack.
“Wayne rang and said you have to be ready in 50 minutes,” Kate said. “We were waiting out the front for the helicopter. We took off and flew less than 5km and Justin, the pilot, dropped us off in the circle of Wingham Showground.”
Though the bride – and the wedding dress – were safe, there were other complications.
Their caterers had been caught in Port Macquarie and the makeup artists were stuck on the wrong side of the bridge into town. Even their wedding singer had been caught up in a car accident.
Luck, however, was on their side.
Most of the couple’s friends and family had spent the night before the wedding in town. By pure chance, another catering company had been caught in town and couldn’t make it to another wedding. It was the same situation for a local hairdresser.
“We did our own makeup,” Kate said.
Her grandmother offered her house and the place was quickly taken over by “masses of women”.
By the end, Kate arrived at the ceremony only 15 minutes late to be walked down the aisle by her father, Peter, who had been through his own journey to be there after he broke his spine and both his legs in a car accident in October 2020.
Afterward, Kate said, the reception was “massive” and with their guests trapped in town with nowhere to go, it continued on through Sunday.
“Explaining it, it doesn’t even sound real,” Kate said.
“It’s like, how is this possible? You can’t make it up. I can’t believe that we pulled it off.
“My family is incredible. We’re not ones to back down from something difficult, we can deal with a challenge or 10 – or a massive flood.”