Lismore residents were exhausted and frustrated on Wednesday after the city flooded for a second time in a month but disjointed communication from the government left people underprepared.
This comes after hefty criticised has been levelled at the government for a lack of disaster relief funding and a few hours after the government delivered a budget with zero funding for renewable energy.
Lismore’s Wilsons River overtopped the 10.65-metre levee at about 10am and flooded the CBD after a storm raged overnight.
NSW SES issued an evacuation order on Tuesday afternoon before it lifted the order at 5pm and told residents it was safe to return home.
But a new evacuation order was issued at 3:20am on Wednesday in response to a “water bomb” rain event, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin said the SES’s decision to lift and later reinstate the evacuation order was made “from the SES at the top level” rather than the result of local assessment and there was a “discord” between emergency services and the BoM.
Floodwaters are gushing through the streets of #Lismore after the Wilsons River overtopped the city’s levee. It could reach 12m late tonight – its second-highest level in 48 years. @SkyNewsAust pic.twitter.com/Tih8V6Eo7N
— Clare Todhunter (@claretodhunter) March 30, 2022
Naomi Moran is the general manager at Australia’s only First Nations print newspaper, Lismore-based the Koori Mail. Moran told PEDESTRIAN.TV communication had been inconsistent and residents had joked that orders came from another part of the state.
“Are they not seeing what we’re seeing or feeling what we’re feeling?” she said.
“How bad does it have to get before we hear anything from them?
“There’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of frustration. We rely on leadership [and] we need our local politicians and leaders to be right here in this moment right now. I think that’s what leadership looks like.”
Byron Bay and Ballina also flooded on Wednesday morning but no evacuation orders were issued.
Moran said her friends in Ballina had “woken up in knee-deep water”.
Spoke to my friend he said his house feels unstable water about to enter I called 000 they told me to call SES I called SES the message said if emergency call 000 20 mins later still on hold. This is the climate emergency. We are not treating as the emergency it is #auspol
— Sue Higginson (@SueHigginson_) March 29, 2022
Byron Bay’s main shopping strip flooded as rain continued at 10am but Byron Shire mayor Michael Lyon said he was still awaiting advice from the SES.
“River heights in Billinudgel and Mullumbimby are holding, though I don’t know how, given how much rain has fallen and continues to fall.”
NSW SES acting commissioner Daniel Austin defended the decision to lift the evacuation order on Tuesday evening before it was reinstated early in the morning.
“If we had a crystal ball then you may make different decisions,” he said.
“The reality is you make your decisions based on the information that you have at the time and the information that we had at the time was that the rivers were falling and that the conditions that we expected were no longer going to present.”
Austin also defended the decision not to evacuate Byron Bay or Ballina along with Lismore.
“What we have seen in Byron and Ballina is the result of flash flooding and flash flooding by its very nature is unpredictable, fast and exceptionally hard to forecast and to predict,” he said.
“What we have seen as people woke up is that yes; areas of Byron, Ballina and the surrounds have all actually seen significant rainfall totals overnight. I want to reiterate my message. We have been warning for a number of days that there was a chance of weather systems in that area creating flash flooding and creating river rain and flooding.”
At 2:30pm Wednesday Lismore’s Wilsons River reached 11.3m, surpassing the 1989 peak to make this the city’s seventh highest flood on record.
Lismore had only just begun to recover after its flood records were broken in February when the water level reached 14.4 metres.
Moran said when the levee overtopped it was a “steady break” so locals weren’t too worried it would peak higher than 12 metres, but everyone was traumatised and weary.
“It’s horrible the heaviness in the communities, it’s just triggered all that emotional trauma,” she said.
In the month after the last floods more than 8,000 businesses applied for flood relief grants from the State Government but as of Tuesday only 377 had been approved.
Moran said the Koori Mail had not yet prioritised applying for a grant and expected thousands more Lismore businesses and families would soon request help.
“People trying to even navigate individual grants or grants for their families, emotionally and mentally some people just don’t have the capacity to do that at the moment.
“With a second flood, I can’t even imagine people are in a position to navigate that bureaucracy.”