Billinudgel begins on road to recovery
By ALEX EASTON
MIKA CLARKE was dragging ruined stock from her Billinudgel gift shop, Angels at Work, the day after the floods when the yelling started.
The tourist, well dressed and perfumed, had arrived and refused to accept the shop was closed.
"I was dragging out mud and smashed property and I had this woman abusing me because she couldn't come in," Ms Clarke said.
"I'm standing there wet and covered in mud and I said to her: 'I haven't even got a shop any more! What could you buy?
"She said: 'There's stuff on the top shelf'."
That was all there was.
Angels at Work, which filled nearly to the ceiling with water, was one of the hardest hit businesses in the hardest hit town in last week's floods.
While the floods created chaos across the Northern Rivers, they king-hit Billinudgel.
In the space of 12 hours, the small town was hit by two floods, the first peaking at 11pm on Wednesday and the second, building on top of the first, peaking on Thursday morning.
They left a community long used to floods reeling.
Individual businesses estimate losses of anywhere from $5000 to more than $200,000 and collectively face a cleanup bill starting at around $1 million.
That figure will rise as the true extent of damage to buildings and equipment becomes clear.
It will rise further when taking into account lost trade from the week or more most have been forced to devote to the clean-up.
However, Billinudgel is fighting back.
All of the 24 business operators who spoke to The Northern Star this week said they would stay, no matter what hardship the cost of the flood eventually put them through.
Most businesses say they do not know if insurance will cover them for the flood and many will be driven further into debt to find the money they need to recover.
"We'll be doing it on our ass for the next 12 months, but we'll survive," Natrad radiator repair shop co-owner Kevin Lambert said.
Mr Lambert said floodwaters rushed through his business, knocking down shelving and dropping about $20,000 worth of stock and equipment into the floodwaters.
Mr Lambert's neighbour, Billinudgel Automotive Services owner Robbie Monteith, may have lost even more than the seat of his pants.
He estimated floods had done at least $150,000 damage to his business with no guarantee of insurance.
Mr Monteith said he was now relying on borrowed and salvaged gear to do his job.
Long term, the business would likely rely on a combination of the Government's low-interest disaster assistance loans, the patience of creditors and a slow, piecemeal rebuilding of stock.
One factor helping the 'we'll muddle through' attitude business operators are taking to the crisis has been the generosity being shown by customers and creditors.
Mika Clarke said a regular customer from Broken Head turned up unannounced a few days after the visit by the abusive tourist and started cleaning -? pausing only to buy them both lunch.
Part-owner of Blue Bay Gourmet Sean Gibney said one of his local suppliers, Zentveld Coffee, replaced the coffee he lost in the flood for free and then sent down family member John Zentveld to help with the clean-up.
Billinudgel Hotel manager Fred Paget said the other factor was the Billinudgel spirit.
"We've all been through floods and fires and all sorts of various disasters," he said. "The only thing to do is bounce back and just say 'we'll fight on'."
Ms Clarke said she had considered walking away, but the worst that could happen had happened and there was little point in giving up.
"The thing I was most scared of in the world has happened," she said.
"What have I got to be afraid of any more?"