A hat-trick of disasters
By HELEN JACK firstname.lastname@example.org FOR the third time in as many months, Lismore and the Richmond Valley are officially natural disaster areas.
The declaration was made yesterday by NSW Premier Morris Iemma after a briefing at the Richmond Tweed SES region headquarters at Goon-%ellabah.
"I have seen the extent of the flooding and the large number of families who have been%isolated, and the Government has no hesitation in extending the natural disaster declaration," said Mr Iemma.
"The declaration triggers a range of assistance for residents, business owners and councils whose properties are damaged in the flooding."
The Tweed and Kyogle local government areas were made natural disaster areas on Saturday.
Mr Iemma said the damages bill for Kyogle was estimated to reach $15 million with Lismore reaching $2 million.
"And with no fatalities or major injuries it is testament to the quick and courageous%actions of the SES, NSW Rural Fire Service and ambulance%officers," he said.
Mr Iemma and Lismore MP Thomas George then toured the worst affected areas by helicopter, touching down at Coraki and Woodburn to chat with locals and SES volunteers.
Coraki SES deputy controller Lynette Smith said the flood was not higher than others she had experienced but it had%inundated different parts of the town.
"It is also wonderful to see so much support by the local community for the SES volunteers," she said. "Someone has donated watermelons and a shop owner has given us a load of fruit juice and locals have%taken volunteers home and fed them."
At Woodburn, SES volunteers Jenny McCormack and Bev Campbell said floodwaters had peaked lower than expected and did not block the Pacific Highway.
"We've not had many calls for assistance but have been%inundated with inquiries from tourists about road conditions further north," Ms McCormack said.
SES crews from around the State and eight helicopters and crew are helping stranded residents with food drops or relocating them to safer premises.
HeliAust pilot Jason Evans and crewman Dave Millsteed are disaster 'veterans', with the pair ferrying four families to safety on Sunday alone.
"We have been here since%Saturday and expect to remain to the end of the week," Dave said.
Contracted to the NSW%Rural Fire Service, the pair help man four helicopters shared between Australia and Canada. "Flying the media around is all part of this and is called a cream job, but if Jason had his way he would be water bombing fires," Dave said.