Towns across northern New South Wales have been left with dangerously low levels of drinking water, while thousands remain stranded on motorways and in their homes, as Australia’s east coast “Rain Bomb” continues to travel south. Officials have warned residents across Sydney to be ready.
The low pressure system currently rolling through northern NSW claimed an additional five lives on Wednesday, bringing the national death toll to 14 on Wednesday. The state’s deputy premier, Paul Toole, offered a midday address to reporters on Wednesday and campaigned for higher dam walls.
“Today is an important message for those that want to stand in the way of building dams or raising dam walls. This actually impacts people's lives,” Toole said. “It impacts on protecting people’s property. I say to those people get out of the way. Stop coming up with excuses and not allowing these dams to be built or raised where they need to be.”
However, he wouldn’t be drawn on whether the government could be doing more to help those impacted.
The deluge has left a path of mass destruction in its wake so bad that officials believe it could take years to recover. For farmers in northern parts of the state, the flood emerges as the third natural disaster they’ve faced in as many years, claiming the lives of thousands of cattle and destroying land and infrastructure.
In Tatham, a centre in the state’s northern rivers region, police helped a herd of cows only just able to keep their heads above water to safety. Not all farmers had the same luck.
Farmers from Lismore said they could only watch on as cattle were swept away by a wall of floodwater earlier in the week. Paul Weir, a dairy farmer located in Lismore, said that as the water came up his cattle “started like a crowd crush”, forcing a gate open and drifting away. He said he thinks he has lost half of them.
Across some parts of the state, people remain stranded on highways, some without medicine, while others have new concerns about access to clean drinking water and food.
The situation deteriorated dramatically later Wednesday afternoon, forcing state police to coordinate a helicopter drop of food and other essential supplies into a church in Coraki, about 30 kilometres south of Lismore, where about 300 flood evacuees have been seeking refuge.
Residents of the Tweed Shire, meanwhile, were warned via the council on Facebook to “CONSERVE WATER NOW”, after water pumps were left without power for close to 24 hours and reservoirs started to run dry.
Later on Wednesday, the state's premier, Dominic Perrottet was asked by reporters whether he thought evacuation warnings had been effective and timely. In response, he said his constituents were “resilient”.
“This is not the first time we’ve gone through this. This has been – over the last four years – natural disaster, after natural disaster, after natural disaster,” he said.
“And there’s been key learnings along the way, particularly in relation to warnings, particularly in relation to the clean-up. One of the concerns that we have, and we keep saying it at every press conference, is follow the instructions of the State Emergency Service (SES).”
Both state and federal governments have come under even more pressure to give serious thought to reconfiguring the support systems in place for the unavoidable natural disasters that too often cripple the continent.
As a result, Perrottet promised residents – many of whom have lost their entire lives to the floodwater over the last few days – that he was putting pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to give the state more financial support.
In the meantime, Morrison – who on Wednesday morning returned a positive COVID-19 test result – reminded residents who stand to lose everything that they can apply for emergency relief funding of $1,000 per person through Services Australia.
As parts of northern NSW continue to reckon with rescue and recovery efforts, major cities along the nation’s east coast are bracing themselves for unprecedented levels of rainfall and have been urged to monitor SES and Bureau of Meteorology messaging for updates.
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