Following the flooding of the northern rivers, there was deep anger and grief. Scared residents were unable to reach emergency services at the worst of the crisis, they leaned on each other to rescue, then many waited up to a week in the sodden ruins of their homes to get the help of soldiers and services. “We have been so abandoned,” said one resident.
Nine months later, when catastrophic floods hit the Centre-Ouest, the atmosphere is different. There are always traumas, heartaches and anger; Former police officer Peter Jones confronted Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet in Eugowra on Friday over a lack of coordination and government support. “It happened in Lismore. It’s repeating the same thing,” he said. Residents have been frustrated with poor connectivity and insufficient warnings.
But many feel supported. Rescues and cleanup have so far been quicker. “The night of the flood a guy came into our house, asking if we needed food or water,” said Ron Hay, 71, from Eugowra, where flash floods tore homes from their foundations and helicopters rescued around 100 people. “I said to him: where are you from? And he said Hurstville to Sydney. They received them fairly quickly.
Labor MP for Lismore Janelle Saffin watched the response closely. While it’s not perfect – even Perrottet admitted there’s “a long way to go” – it’s better. “It’s definitely a different kind of response,” she said. “There needed to be a cultural change in the way they do business. It seems that everything is happening now. Even when we had the threat of a flood [in Lismore] lately … there were more resources, more people on the ground, earlier warnings. This is the answer we should have had in February.
There are many differences between the two disasters. In the north, services have been stretched due to warnings all along the coast. Bad weather hampered the helicopters. This week in the west, services were on hold as they were already responding to flooding. In places like Forbes, the river has risen slowly, giving residents more time to pack up and evacuate.
The state emergency service, or SES, is the agency responsible for the flooding and has been heavily criticized during the northern rivers emergency. Commissioner Carlene York said that one of the main lessons of this disaster, which was implemented during these floods, was to anticipate higher water levels than those predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology, given the record nature of this year’s floods. “The desktop gives a range of the height of the water,” she said. “We plan to reach an even higher level.”
The service also introduced a new alert service called HazardWatch – launched at the end of September – in response to the flood investigation, which called for an app to streamline, simplify and improve real-time information. He reduced the myriad of warning types to three, reducing confusion. “We have a greater ability to define areas [requiring warnings],” York said.
. How the lessons Lismore helped the victims of the floods in central west