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NSW Floods: The damage done and job ahead

Late last week the North Coast was battered as tropical Cyclone Debbie’s storm system moved south into NSW. Up to 740mms of rain was dumped in the middle and upper reaches of the Tweed River Valley within 24 hours and subsequently communities in the Lismore and Tweed electorates have been hit by the biggest floods in 40 years.

In Lismore the Wilson River peaked near 11.6 metres and overtopped the levee at 4 o’clock on Friday morning. The CBD was subsequently submerged in floodwater and over 1,000,000L of water has pumped out of Lismore CBD subsequently. Evacuation orders affected more than 25,000 across the Richmond Tweed Region. Towns, communities and property owners are now coming to terms with the extent of the damage as they are gradually allowed back into the flood zones to inspect their homes and businesses.

On Monday I was joined by the Premier to visit SES and emergency services volunteers and flood affected communities in the Tweed and Lismore electorates. Together with Geoff Provest and Thomas George we thanked our SES volunteers in the Tweed Unit, the SES base in Goonellabah and in the Lismore Unit. We spoke to some of the devastated small business owners in Murwillumbah and we commended the work of more than 50 amazing multi-agency volunteers at the Lismore Recovery Centre.

Seeing the trail of damage and destruction left by the flood was extremely confronting.  Our North Coast communities have been kicked in the guts. But regional communities are resilient, we are tough and we want them to know that they are not alone. We are here and will stay beside them through the rebuilding in the weeks and months ahead. The Government will wrap its arms around those in need to ensure they are given every opportunity to recover and rebuild from this devastating event.

Last week I spoke with the Federal Minister for Justice Michael Keenan, and under the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA), we triggered natural disaster assistance for individuals, small business owners, primary producers, and councils who need help to recover from the devastating impact of the floods.

We know how important it is to help people get back on their feet as quickly as possible, and this will be our sole focus as communities move into the recovery phase.  That is why we announced the appointment of Euan Ferguson as Recovery Coordinator to manage recovery efforts during our visit to the flood affected region on Monday. Mr Ferguson has extensive knowledge and expertise in responding to regional emergencies and will provide practical support and leadership to those affected by the North Coast floods.

Mr Ferguson’s responsibilities will include arranging short and long-term accommodation for those in need, supporting clean-up efforts, working with small businesses and primary producers to understand the full impact of the floods, and ensuring insurance companies work rapidly to resolve claims.

The Premier has put insurance companies on notice. We’ll be closely monitoring them to make sure they play their part in assisting those who have lost so much.

The Minister for Environment announced that residents in six storm affected areas on the NSW North Coast will be exempt from paying the NSW Government’s waste levy fee on flood and storm generated waste until 31 May 2017.

I know that Thomas George, Geoff Provest and Ben Franklin are doing all they can to assist their constituents. I look forward to working closely with them to provide all assistance available to get their communities back on track.

Our thoughts are with communities in Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed. Communities across the region have experienced great loss as a result of this tragic flood event. Some have lost everything. Lives have tragically been lost and our thoughts and prayers are with the families who are grieving at this very difficult time. 

Throughout the last week our SES and emergency services have been outstanding. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and they deserve the entire State’s gratitude for their dedication to the massive task at hand. During the event 1,048 SES volunteers and staff responded to 2,732 requests for assistance of which 487 were flood rescues.

At every stop on our tour of affected regions we heard of the bravery, tenacity and professionalism of our emergency services personnel and volunteers. I want to thank you all volunteers and personnel for their assistance. The efforts over the last week have been invaluable.

Those affected should contact the Disaster Welfare Assistance Line on 1800 018 444 for more information.

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