Tensions are boiling over across flood-affected parts of New South Wales and Queensland, with frustration at the speed at which official support is being rolled out, as the death toll from the catastrophe mounts.
On Saturday afternoon, a woman was found dead in flood waters in south-east Queensland, bringing the state’s toll to 11. Queensland police divers found the body in Mudgeeraba, on the outskirts of the Gold Coast, with investigators yet to confirm whether it was a 42-year-old woman who was last seen on 27 February.
Meanwhile, in NSW, the death toll sat at six, with the Resilience NSW commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, reiterating that the state had “got to brace ourselves” for further deaths, with many towns and houses still cut off by flood water.
He made the comments at a press conference with the premier, Dominic Perrottet, and various government ministers on the outskirts of Lismore on Saturday, as officials continued to visit flood-affected parts of the northern rivers region.
Perrottet vowed he was “not going to spare a dollar” in flood recovery efforts, and promised to “not just rebuild” Lismore despite its flood prone environment.
“Lismore is a great town and we’re going to make it greater.”
Perrottet acknowledged that the official government agencies would likely make some mistakes throughout the mammoth cleanup task of rebuilding Lismore.
He also said immediate housing for residents who had lost homes was a primary concern.
The emergency services minister, Steph Cooke, said that of the roughly 1,400 rapid property damage assessments carried out in Lismore, 900 homes had already been deemed uninhabitable.
Cooke also defended State Emergency Service workers following what she claimed was “unwarranted” criticism, as some communities – such as Mullumbimby and surrounding hinterland – had resorted to volunteer-led rescues.
Cooke said that 5,000 defence force personnel would be deployed across NSW to assist with flood recovery, with the first 900 of them starting on Sunday.
Regarding frustration from communities which had not been reached by official emergency services, Perrottet said “I don’t believe they’ve been forgotten”.
Communities in the Tweed Valley and around Murwillumbah have been crowdfunding to hire helicopters to deliver medical supplies to cut-off properties, while untrained volunteers were performing emergency rescues and discovering corpses.
While Perrottet had vowed to fund the flood recovery, there was frustration in Lismore on Saturday from locals trying to access government support.
Luisa Duffy and Pierina Paron-Berry were still cleaning out the Me and My House childcare centre they’ve owned for 16 years.
While it took until Thursday for flood waters to recede enough for them to access the Diadem Street centre, the enormity of the cleanup meant that they were still ripping out floor boards on Saturday with a team of local volunteers.
Duffy was scathing of the bureaucracy required to access many of the immediate support payments on a federal and state level – noting that internet and phone reception had been close to non-existent across the northern rivers this week.
“The premier can hold a nice and dry press conference, but how about us still cleaning up here? How do our staff even lodge their payment applications without internet?
“They’re asking for details about banking history and how much paid leave they have available – and this is for people who’ve lost all their files and computers, for a payment that is less than jobkeeper was.
“Do they [government] realise how tough it is to just access the internet right now? They’ve got no idea … We just need more from both the state and federal governments right now,” Duffy said.
Paron-Berry said childcare would be in short supply in Lismore, as seven centres had been taken out by the floods. She said she could not even estimate how long it would take for them to reopen.
She said many of her centre’s kids were the children of workers at the Lismore hospital – which is nearby – and that it was important for children to have some sense of familiarity at a time when their home situation and all of their other surroundings were changing.
“These kids have no consistency in their lives, it’s so important for their emotional and psychological safety.”
Paron-Berry said the centre was uninsured, having tried unsuccessfully to offer their insurance company to pay a premium to get reinsured after the 2017 floods.
“People just don’t get it, that after 2017 insurance companies give you a flat no if you live in Lismore,” Paron-Berry said.
The cost of the flood disaster in NSW was now more than $240m, according to the Insurance Council of Australia, while estimates taking in Queensland claims reached more than $1bn on Friday.
The ICA said it had received 67,537 flood-related claims, 24% from NSW and 76% from south-east Queensland.
However, many of the most seriously flood-affected residents in NSW towns were still struggling to access internet and phone reception to be able to lodge insurance claims.