Lismore flood victims blame govt response

·3-min read

Northern NSW residents affected by the devastating floods earlier in the year have blamed authorities for their slow response as the waters rose.

At least 10 people died from the devastating floods across the Northern Rivers and western Sydney, with Lismore hit the hardest by the relentless rain during February and March.

Residents addressed a state government commissioned public inquiry in Lismore led by former police commissioner Mick Fuller and Professor Mary O'Kane.

Helen Coyle, a disabled woman from Lismore suffering from a complex tremor, described how she was left destitute the night the floods hit as roads were cut off into the town

"I found myself stranded in Ballina and I approached the local hospital and I said I had no money and nowhere to go ... and they told me it was my fault that I was in this situation" she said choking back tears.

"I don't want people to go through what I was put through as someone threw me back out into the rain".

She said it took her five days to return back to the devastated town.

"God help you if you're on the streets because you have nowhere to go. We deserve basic decency and we seem to have been forgotten about," said Ms Coyle.

Another resident who identified himself as John said he was taken by surprise about the severity of the catastrophic floods.

"We had no indication that the flood would be worse than 2017," he said.

"There was a guy standing on a wheelie bin and he was about to drown. He couldn't swim so we picked him up."

He lamented the loss of valuables including seven guitars and a laptop, criticising the authorities for not being quick enough in rescuing people, with residents taking the lead.

"I'm not criticising the SES but I only saw one SES boat with a motor on it," he said.

"There's got to be a better system for rescuing people."

Mark O'Toole who was rescued from a roof by an army helicopter in Bungawalbin reiterated the shortcomings of authorities' response.

"We were basically in boats for five and a half weeks doing rescues ... taking generators, fuel, food continually, and during that whole process we were alone," he said.

"We were just the public getting together. (We were) self-funded and did it all ourselves."

East Lismore school teacher and resident, Rukmini, described how sewage had inundated her home.

"Raw sewage was coming up through the drains, the sink and water was piling in," she said.

Several residents criticised the forum for being little more than a talkfest but still shared their experiences, and recommended that better equipment was needed for SES crews.

Northern NSW received more than a year's worth of rain in late February extending to early March, with levees breached in Lismore.

At the end of the month more heavy rain forced thousands to flee their homes for a second time.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority said it had more than 90 unresolved complaints from residents across northern NSW and southeast Queensland about insurance claims delays and amounts.

The Insurance Council of Australia has estimated they were the costliest floods to date, totalling $3.35 billion with nearly 200,000 combined claims across both states.

Another community hearing in Tumbulgum in the Tweed Shire is scheduled for Wednesday with a final report set to be delivered to the NSW government by September 30.

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