A mother feared drowned with two of her children in a flood-ravaged northern NSW river did not act negligently by driving along a closed road, the local pastor says.
Rob Stuttle, from the Living Waters Pentecostal Church in Tumbulgum, says news of the tragedy began to spread just as the emotional impact of flooding and clean-up efforts was hitting home.
"The reality has kicked in of what we've been through," he told AAP on Tuesday after spending the morning visiting locals.
The 43-year-old woman and her three children were in the car when it veered off the muddy Dulguigan Road on Monday afternoon into the swollen Tweed River.
The woman's eight-year-old daughter was able to escape but the mother, her seven-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are feared drowned.
Pastor Stuttle said contrary to reports, the road used by the family was not closed.
"It's hard enough that this family has the loss, but for the public to think she was doing something that was negligent .... I wanted to right that injustice and make sure the truth got out there," he said.
There was no barrier to stop traffic veering off the road, he said.
Residents of the town, which has a population of just 400, are already exhausted from cleaning up in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.
"We've had three days now and you get in and get it done, but now the emotion starts to kick in," Pastor Stuttle said.
It would be important for residents to communicate, share their stories and get counselling, he added.
"We're going to set up a marquee and a table and chairs and say come and have a coffee," he said.
"A lot of people just want information."
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Jeff Loy said the tragedy would have a major impact on the family and the Tweed community.
Former police officer Matthew Grinham has told of a frantic rescue effort, joining several others who dived into the freezing water and unsuccessfully tried to reach the car.
Police divers from Sydney will search for the bodies on Tuesday.