Australian town Lismore like a 'war zone' as the big floodwater cleanup begins
Thousands of residents in the Australian town of Lismore and northern New South Wales were given the all-clear to return to their homes on Sunday as the full extent of the floodwater carnage became clear.
Lismore mayor Isaac Smith labelled his town "a war zone" and as the water, mud and sewage began to subside, that was exactly how it appeared.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who will visit the region on Monday, urged residents to be patient as authorities surveyed the damage.
"This is a huge catastrophe," she said in Sydney. "This is a massive, massive natural disaster."
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Two women have been killed by NSW floodwaters after ex-cyclone Debbie dumped heavy rainfall on large parts of the state. It's still being established whether a man, whose body was found at a South Murwillumbah caravan park, died as a result of flooding. A 46-year-old man also died at his Murwillumbah home but it is understood he had not entered the floods.
Most of Lismore's roads have now reopened after the river peaked at 11.6 metres, its highest since 1974. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, the State Emergency Service (SES) had lifted evacuation orders for north and south Lismore, having earlier urged residents not to return prematurely.
According to the SES, about 15,000 properties remained isolated by floodwater and double that number were still subject to evacuation orders. The Rural Fire Service has set up a base camp for hundreds of emergency service workers to help with the clean-up effort.
But while tens of thousands of people were counting the cost of the floodwaters on Sunday, there were some counting their blessings, most notably residents on low lying Cabbage Tree Island who were returning to their homes, less than 24 hours after they were ordered to evacuate.
"We are thankful we escaped unharmed," one resident said. "It did not look good for us but the water never climbed as high as they said it might. We are the lucky ones."
Further north, in southeast Queensland, hundreds of residents remain without power after Energex cut supply to stem the threat of electrocution.
A 77-year-old man, Nelson Raebel, was found dead on Saturday after he went missing in floodwaters on Friday. Three men are also still missing in cyclone-affected areas of Queensland.
Logan mayor Luke Smith said the "unprecedented" impact of the weather meant a ballpark figure for the damage bill was beyond comprehension. "The sky is the limit," he said.
While some areas in Queensland have started the gruelling clean-up, the central town of Rockhampton is still bracing for the worst flooding since February 1954 with forecasters predicting that warning flood levels will peak at 9.4m on Wednesday, impacting 5400 properties, including 3000 homes.
- With AAP
- Sydney Morning Herald