NSW failed Lismore flood victims: report

Older, disabled and pregnant residents of Lismore were left behind in NSW state and local authorities' flood response in February, a new report has found.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill said the response did not take into account marginalised groups with those acutely at risk being older Australians, those with a disability and pregnant women.

"During the 2022 floods, NSW authorities did not adequately warn or help at-risk people, which led to terrifying and deadly consequences".

"Climate change exacerbates inequalities, and the failures seen in Lismore highlight the urgent need for the authorities to ensure inclusive climate action and planning".

Ms McNeill also urged the federal government "to make at-risk groups a priority in their extreme weather response planning".

Lismore, the epicentre of flooding across the Northern Rivers, peaked at 14.4 metres in late February.

A state government-commissioned inquiry into the devastating floods which killed 13 people and destroyed some 4000 homes made 28 recommendations including overhauling Resilience NSW, the main agency tasked with emergency response.

HRW's report on Friday drew on interviews with 23 Lismore flood survivors who squarely blamed NSW and local authorities for not providing adequate flood warnings, evacuation, or rescue support.

The rights group cited the testimony of North Lismore resident Laurie Axtens, 57, who feared for the lives of his mother, Valerie, 91, and Christopher, 53, his brother, who has a disability.

As the water rose, Mr Axtens was unable to lift them into the roof cavity.

"I tried to ring them, I couldn't even get through. I tried to ring 000. And he put me on hold! It was terrifying to be completely honest," he said.

"I could have gotten into the loft in my house, but I couldn't get Val or Christopher".

"If it was just left to the government response, we were stuffed".

Another stranded local was 32year-old South Lismore resident Jahnaya Mumford who was 38 weeks pregnant the night the flood waters rose rapidly.

Like many of her neighbours, she had moved her car to higher ground earlier that day and did not receive an evacuation order from emergency services.

Once the gushing waters rose, Ms Mumford, her mother, and her 13-year-old daughter called emergency services 35 times asking to be rescued but their attempts were rebuffed.

"My first phone call I think was 3.30 am. I said I've got two young kids and I'm 38 weeks pregnant. The water's just about to come inside my top story of my house ... and they said we aren't doing any rescues till daylight".

"By the time it got to our chins, and I was standing on my tippy toes. I was starting to panic; I was worried I was going to go into labour".

In response to HRW's report, the State Emergency Service said it had deployed rescue crews "in accordance with existing emergency management arrangements".

"As an emergency service organisation, we will always be looking out for what we can do better," it said.