Incredible video shows the horrific conditions an elderly couple endured before they were dramatically rescued as floodwaters lapped at their necks in Lismore on Tuesday.
"Another hour they would have both been dead," said local rescuer Bronson Scofield, 28, who ripped off roof sheets to save the couple.
Muddy water, littered with debris, filled their two-storey home up to the roof. The couple, separated in different rooms, were in complete darkness, struggling to keep their heads above water as they breathed in the last air available high in the roof cavity. The water continued to rise as the town was swallowed up by its worst flood in history.
Bronson, from nearby Tullera, and his mate Andrew Gillespie had arrived just in time.
The couple's energy was all but gone. One of them was partially paralysed, having previously suffered a stroke.
"We couldn’t even hear them until we got right up to them," Bronson said standing on roof of the house with his boat.
Bronson and Andrew saved several people and animals. The humble duo said many locals were doing the same.
Bronson’s partner, Tegan Page, 32, had helped the pair coordinate the rescues. She told Yahoo News Australia that Bronson said the house was in complete darkness.
"The water was obviously over the windows and there was no power,” she said, describing the conditions as “insane”.
Tegan had assisted Bronson and Andrew by monitoring social media and responding to people’s calls for help.
“There was a lot of Facebook groups posting addresses that needed rescuing," she explained.
"I was at home sending the locations through to the boys and they were going to the houses pulling the sheets off the roofs looking for the people,” she said.
Over several days, the group pulled off multiple rescues, including saving a howling dog who became stuck in a tree in rising floodwaters.
Despite saving many lives, Bronson said he was “just doing what he needed to do”.
“There are a lot of others in the community that we’re doing the same,” Ms Page said.
“A lot of heroes in this town.”
Thousands of people were evacuated from Lismore, and many others left stranded on the roofs of their homes.
Four deaths were recorded in the area, three of which were elderly victims found dead in their flooded homes. Another man's body was found floating down a Lismore street.
Elderly woman found floating on mattress just 20cm from ceiling
In another harrowing rescue, a 93-year-old woman was found in her home on Barnes Street floating on a mattress with “no more than 20cm of room between the roof and the water level”, according to police.
Two officers were conducting search and rescue operations in the street. They yelled out and heard a faint call for help coming from the house.
One officer dove through an open window and helped the woman onto a boogie board before she was taken out of a window to a rescue boat.
Deputy Premier Paul Toole, said the rescues carried out by police, volunteers and locals reflected the “true meaning of community”.
“I am thankful to every police officer, every volunteer, every community member who has helped. There is no doubt in my mind that these acts of bravery have saved countless lives," he said.
Mobility issues, isolation risk factors in flooding
According to the 2016 census, 18.2 per cent of the Lismore population is over the age of 65. Almost 8 per cent are over 75.
But it’s not just age that’s a factor, according to the Australian Red Cross’ National Resilience Adviser John Richardson.
“While being over 70 increases a person’s risk, it's not so much the age that is the issue," he told Yahoo News.
"But it is more that they may have health issues that affect mobility, or they may live alone and not have social support, or be socially isolated, or have a lower income and not be able to afford preparedness measures.
“So it is important that all agencies are aware of this, particularly if we are supporting people in evacuation centres. This is also where we call out to the community to check on neighbours who may be elderly, and offer help if they need it, but also be mindful they may be an asset too.”
For people with elderly relatives, friends or neighbours, Mr Richardson listed several ways to help in disaster situations:
Reach out to them and check in on them.
Ask if they need any help, whether it’s practical, it could be moving furniture, or packing up sentimental items, or cleaning up.
You can also provide shelter for them. If they do evacuate from home, help them to register with Register Find Reunite
Providing emotional support and reassurance is also important. This might be helping understand the amount of information coming out about the floods.
You can develop what we call a Key3. These are the three people who are closest to you or them who can help. Our Get Ready App helps do this
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.