Tuesday 28 February 2023

There was no rain recorded in Lismore from 9am on 27 February to 4:30am on 28 February 2023. How different was last year......


BOM 8.50am 27/02/2022

Heavy rainfall occurring

Minor flooding occurring. Rises to major flooding possible from overnight Sunday into Monday.

BOM 2.15pm 27/02/2022

Flood levels forecast

The Wilsons River may reach moderate flood level on Sunday evening. It may reach the major flood level early Monday.

SES 4.20pm 27/02/2022

Evacuation warning for Lismore

Residents and business in low-lying areas of Lismore may need to evacuate due to rising floodwater.

BOM 5.08pm 27/02/2022

Forecast revised

Renewed rises are occurring. The river level may reach 11.0 metres during Monday, the highest level since the March 2017 flood.

SES 9.30pm 27/02/2022

Evacuation order for North & South Lismore

South and North Lismore must evacuate now. Leave by 10pm. The Lismore CBD must evacuate by 5am.

BOM 11pm 27/02/2022

Levee to overtop

The levee protecting Lismore’s CBD is expected to overtop around 5am Monday. The river is now expected to reach the level of the historic March 1974 flood (12.15 metres). Further rises are possible.

SES 12.45am 28/02/2022

Lismore evacuate NOW!

North & South Lismore, Lismore CBD, Girards Hill and low-lying areas of East Lismore must evacuate now. Lift possessions and important items above the predicted flood height, take pets and essential items with you, and leave as early as possible.

BOM 1.09am 28/02/2022

Levee to overtop sooner

Moderate flooding is occurring. The levee is now likely to overtop around 3am. The river is still expected to reach around 12.15 metres late Monday morning, with further rises possible.

SES 1.45am 28/02/2022

Flood siren

The SES calls for Lismore’s flood siren to be sounded. The firefighters responsible for sounding the alarm have already been flooded out of their building.

SES 2.55am 28/02/2022

New river peak predicted

Major flooding is occurring at Lismore, and the levee is about to overtop at 10.6 metres. The river may reach around 13.50 metres on Monday evening.

BOM 5.56am 28/02/2022

Lismore’s first 14m flood forecast

The Wilsons River may reach around 14.00 metres on Monday afternoon, above the previous record flood in February 1954 (12.27 metres).

BOM 8.48am 28/02/2022

Record flooding is now occurring

Flooding is now occurring above the levels of the 1974 and 1954 floods. These record years have long been the benchmarks by which other floods are measured.

BOM 11.41am 28/02/2022

Peak predicted

The river is expected to peak at 14.4 metres on Monday afternoon.

BOM 2.52pm 28/02/2022

The situation steadies

The river level is now around 14.37 metres and steady.

BOM 8.17pm 28/02/2022

At last, the river level drops

The Wilsons River peaked in Lismore at 14.40 metres around 3pm. It is now falling.

[Timeline, ABC News, 27 February 2023]

At 10:28 am on the morning of 1 March 2022 the first death was reported. An elderly woman found in her own flooded home by a concerned neighbour.

Australia has a methane problem and it is not going away


Methane (CH4) is a simple hydrocarbon found in nature as a gas. It has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide (CO2) – around 12 years compared with centuries – but absorbs much more energy while it exists in the atmosphere. Reportedly absorbing heat 84 times faster than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Methane affects air quality to the point of being a dangerous pollutant when it leads to ground level (tropospheric) ozone. Methane leaks can also pose explosion hazards.

Methane is also a greenhouse gas whose presence in the atmosphere in increasing intensity affects the Earth’s temperature and climate.

It is emitted from a variety of natural and human-influenced sources, including landfills, oil and natural gas systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial processes. These emissions can occur by way of uncontrolled release, fugitive escape, periodic venting or flaring.

It is thought that methane in the atmosphere has been one the seven major gas emissions driving climate change since the Industrial Revolution.

According to the CSIRO, in 2021 the Kennaook/Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station near Tasmania’s isolated north-west tip, which records the greenhouse gas data from one of the cleanest air sources in the world, reported the average amount of methane in clean air off the Southern Ocean was 17 parts per billion (ppb) higher than it had been in 2020. This was the highest year-on-year increase measured since the mid-1980s when systematic atmospheric measurements commenced…..

and that the

World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, released in October 2022, reported that the globally-averaged atmospheric methane concentration increases in 2020 and 2021 were the largest since records began, at 15 and 18 ppb respectively.

This increase is higher than the average annual increase over the past decade.

Overall, the increase in atmospheric methane has reached 262 per cent of the pre-industrial level.

Put simply, the world and Australia have a methane problem which is contributing to the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions. Which in turn is causing climate change which has been a significant factor in the series of rolling unnatural disasters across Australia over the last decade.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) an autonomous intergovernmental organisation of which Australia is a member the world’s total methane emissions were est. 355,801 kilotons (kt) in 2022 and, the energy sector produced est. 131,646.37 kilotons of that total or 37 per cent.

Australia’s contribution to the 2022 global total was 5,544 kilotons of methane emissions or 1.6 per cent of total world emissions, of which 2,217.6 kilotons or 40 per cent were produced by the Australian energy sector.

The Guardian on 24 February 2023 reported that the IEA energy sector emissions estimate is 63% higher than the federal Dept. of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water’s estimate of 1.37 tonnes or est.1,370 kilotons.

Most of what the Australian Government reports about methane emission levels in gaseous fuels used by the energy sector comes from self-reporting by energy operators [DCCEEW, National Inventory Report 2020 – Part 1]

The Albanese Labor Government in October 2022 announced in had signed the Global Methane Pledge, a voluntary commitment to participation in global action on methane emissions. Which in the federal government’s case has been interpreted as continuing to partner with industry to decarbonise the economy and pursue emissions reduction initiatives across energy and waste sectors including capturing waste methane to generate electricity.

Elsewhere this has been optimistically reported as an intention to crackdown on methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction.

IEA, News, media release, 21 February 2023:

The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker shows the oil and gas sector could slash emissions of potent greenhouse gas using only a fraction of its bumper income from the energy crisis

A combination of high energy prices, security of supply concerns and economic uncertainty were not enough to drive down methane emissions last year, according to new IEA analysis.

The IEA’s latest update of its Global Methane Tracker found that the global energy industry was responsible for 135 million tonnes of methane released into the atmosphere in 2022, only slightly below the record highs seen in 2019. Today, the energy sector accounts for around 40% of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, second only to agriculture.

Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. It dissipates faster than carbon dioxide but is a much more powerful greenhouse gas during its short lifespan. Cutting methane emissions is one of the most effective ways to limit global warming and improve air quality in the near term. This year’s report also includes methane emissions from coal mines and measures to cut them by half.

Methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be reduced by 75% with existing technologies, highlighting a lack of industry action on an issue that is often very cheap to address. Less than 3% of the income accrued by oil and gas companies worldwide last year would be required to make the USD 100 billion investment in technologies needed to achieve this reduction.

Our new Global Methane Tracker shows that some progress is being made but that emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough – especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming. There is just no excuse,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The Nord Stream pipeline explosion last year released a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere. But normal oil and gas operations around the world release the same amount of methane as the Nord Stream explosion every single day.”

Stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting of methane is the most impactful measure countries can take to rein in emissions. Around 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of methane is currently lost to the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations. Three-quarters of this could be retained and brought to market using tried and tested policies and technologies. The captured methane would amount to more than the European Union’s total annual gas imports from Russia prior to the invasion of Ukraine.

Satellites are providing an ever-clearer picture of methane emissions and greatly increasing the world’s knowledge of emission sources. The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker incorporates their latest readings along with data from other science-based measurement campaigns. In 2022 alone, more than 500 super-emitting events were detected by satellites from oil and gas operations and a further 100 were seen at coal mines.

The untamed release of methane in fossil fuel production is a problem that sometimes goes under the radar in public debate,” Dr Birol said. “Unfortunately, it’s not a new issue and emissions remain stubbornly high. Many companies saw hefty profits last year following a turbulent period for international oil and gas markets amid the global energy crisis. Fossil fuel producers need to step up and policy makers need to step in – and both must do so quickly.”

The report highlights the most effective ways to limit coal mine methane emissions in addition to reducing consumption of coal. Deploying mitigation measures should be a priority, especially given the risk that coal demand remains high in the coming years. The IEA has developed a new regulatory roadmap and toolkit to guide actions by policymakers and companies seeking to reduce coal mine methane emissions. This sits alongside the similar publications on oil and gas released in previous years that have become the “go-to” source for policy makers and regulators looking to develop new and impactful methane regulations.

The Global Methane Pledge, launched in November 2021 at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, marked an important step forward by bringing governments together on this issue. The pledge now has around 150 participants that have collectively committed to reduce methane emissions from human activities by 30% by 2030. This includes emissions from agriculture, the energy sector and other sources. Countries that have joined the pledge currently account for 55% of total methane emissions from human activities and about 45% of methane from fossil fuel operations. It will be critical for participants to formulate pragmatic strategies and measures to reduce their own emissions, and to engage with countries that have not yet joined the pledge.

Monday 27 February 2023

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says the latest Roy Morgan Poll into NSW voting intention shows the election is still ‘up for grabs’ just over a month before 25 March election day


Roy Morgan Research, media release, excerpt, 21 February 2023:

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says the latest Roy Morgan Poll into NSW voting intention shows the election is still ‘up for grabs’ just over a month before election day in late March with the ALP holding a narrow two-party preferred lead over the Liberal-National Coalition:

The latest Roy Morgan Poll of NSW voting intention shows the ALP on 52% narrowly ahead of the Liberal-National Coalition on 48% on a two-party preferred basis. This result is a reverse of the 2019 New South Wales election when the L-NP won a majority of 48 seats in the 93 seat lower house.

The primary voting intention shows an almost three way split between the Coalition on 35% ahead of the ALP on 32.5% and another 32.5% supporting other parties and independents. This result is very similar to last year’s Federal Election when the ALP won Government despite receiving only 32.6% of the primary vote, even less than the L-NP on 35.7%.

The low primary vote for the major parties increases the importance of preferences from minor parties and independents. Around half of the support for this group is flowing to two minor parties on either side of politics – the left-wing Greens on 9.5% and right-wing One Nation on 6.5%.

Greens support traditionally flows strongly to the ALP via preferences at a rate of around 85% while One Nation support flows via preferences at a rate of around 65% to the Coalition. However, the optional preferential voting (OPV) used in NSW means voters need not direct their preferences to any party beyond their first choice.

The OPV system allows voters to simply number their ballot paper with a ‘1’ for their preferred candidate to register a valid vote. Analysis of prior NSW State elections shows around 50% of voters direct preferences to exhaustion while the other 50% of voters don’t.

The OPV system therefore makes it harder for parties finishing second, or even third, in the primary vote to overtake the leading party on preferences – favouring the party with the highest primary vote. Not since the 1995 NSW State election has a party won government despite receiving a lower primary vote.

One interesting result from this month’s voting intention results in NSW is that support for One Nation increased 2% points to 6.5% - the highest level of support for the party since the 1999 NSW State Election over 20 years ago when the party scored 7.5% of the vote.

One reason for the rise in support for One Nation may have been the recruitment of former Labour MP Tania Mihailuk during January. Mihailuk has represented the seat of Bankstown in the western suburbs since 2011 before resigning from the ALP in 2022 and joining One Nation in mid-January.

Upon joining One Nation Mihailuk became the first One Nation MP to represent a lower house seat in the NSW Parliament and will run for the Legislative Council in second place behind NSW One Nation Leader Mark Latham – a former Federal ALP Leader.”

CSIRO: new research shows that stronger El Niño may speed up warming of deep waters in the Antarctic shelf, making ice shelves and ice sheets melt faster


CSIRO News, 21 February 2023:

Stronger El Niño could cause irreversible melting of Antarctica

Totten Glacier. Photo: Esmee Van Wijk

New research led by scientists at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has shown that future increases in the strength of El Niño may accelerate the irreversible melting of ice shelves and ice sheets in Antarctica.

The results, published in Nature Climate Change, used climate models to show how an increase in the variability of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) leads to reduced warming near the surface, but accelerated warming of deeper ocean waters.

ENSO is a key driver of climate variability, as both its warm phase, El Niño, and its colder phase, La Niña, influence weather conditions around the world, including in Australia.

Wenju Cai, lead author of this study and global expert on the relationship between climate change and ENSO, said the research was a critical step in further understanding how Antarctica will be affected by climate change.

Climate change is expected to increase the magnitude of ENSO, making both El Niño and La Niña stronger,” Dr Cai said.

This new research shows that stronger El Niño may speed up warming of deep waters in the Antarctic shelf, making ice shelves and ice sheets melt faster.

Our modelling also revealed that warming around the edges of floating sea ice is slowed during this process, slowing down the melting of sea ice near the surface.

Models with increased ENSO variability show a reduced upwelling of deeper, warmer waters, leading to slower warming of the ocean surface,” he said.

The associated winds around Antarctica are the mechanism driving this result.

When ENSO variability increases, it slows the intensifying westerly winds along the shelf. As a result, the upwelling of warm water around Antarctica is not able to increase as much.

The research team examined 31 climate models that participated in Phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) under historical forcings and a high-emissions scenario.

Co-author Ariaan Purich from Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future at Monash University said the effects of increasing ENSO variability go beyond extreme weather risks, and affect changes in Antarctic sea ice and ice shelves and sheets.

This could have broad implications for the global climate system, so continuing to understand how ENSO will respond to climate change is a critical area of climate research,” Dr Purich said.

There is still a lot more we need to understand about processes influencing shelf temperatures, and the finding is an important piece of the puzzle," she said.

Sunday 26 February 2023

The Northern Rivers region is at least two years away from a genuine region-wide flood watch system, leaving populations on the flood plains potentially as vulnerable as they were in 2022


The five-paragraph letter to Lismore City Council was short, dismissive.

The [NSW] Department of Planning and Environment was rejecting the council’s application for a $100,000 grant to improve its flood warning system. The proposed works - new rainfall and river height gauges, CCTV cameras and a “community flood dashboard” - were deemed “premature”.

Three days later, on February 28, the biggest flood in modern Australian history inundated Lismore, and the rest of the Northern Rivers.” [The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 2022]

The rainfall event that triggered the 22 February to 15 March 2022 Northern Rivers Flood reached its maximum intensity in less than 24 hours and, 41 climate gauge stations (out of the 108 active climate gauge stations covering the river basins about to flood) as well as 8 flood gauge stations (out of 86 active flood gauge stations covering those same basins) had already or were about to fail.

The most critical of these active station failures occurred in the Richmond, Tweed and Brunswick basins. While the absence of stations in sections of a number of highly variable flow river catchments & sub-catchments, along with the restricted form of official rainfall recording (9am to 9am), meant that blind spots were already built into the flood watch systems operating in the Northern Rivers region.

IMAGES: CSIRO (30 Nov 2022) Lerat, J. et al, “Characterisation of the 2022 floods in the Northern Rivers region”, pp. 2 & 15] Click on images to enlarge

MSM, 23 February 2023:

Warning systems will not be immediately improved under a $50 million plan to better protect the Northern Rivers from floods, despite a scathing CSIRO report finding an urgent need for a better system.

The report released today revealed for the first time the extent of failures in the state’s flood warning system during the February-March floods last year, which killed four people and left thousands of people stranded on their rooftops.

It also recommended the development of a comprehensive flood warning network, as revealed in the Herald this morning, but the government has not included this work in the first stage of projects to be funded on the back of the report. Another $100 million of projects are yet to be announced.

The report found the warning system failures in the Northern Rivers last year had “critical consequences”. They led to river heights being “severely underestimated” and “severely impacted” warning times.

The Wilsons River in Lismore peaked more than three metres higher than initially predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology on February 28 last year, catching the State Emergency Service and other emergency services off guard.

Towns downstream were also devastated over the following days, including Coraki, which was cut off for five days until the army was able to gain access on March 6.

The report, released on Thursday by federal emergency management minister Murray Watt, found that more than 50 gauges that measure rainfall and river heights failed in the Northern Rivers during the February and March floods.

Gaps in the network also meant the authorities did not realise how much rain was falling in some areas, or how high the rivers were running during the event.

There is an urgent need for more rainfall and river height data to feed BOM’s predictive models and enable SES to disseminate appropriate warnings,” the report said.

[Gauge failure] has major consequences for providing early warnings during a large flood event.”

Watt released the report in Lismore and outlined the first list of flood mitigation projects to be funded.

The list of projects includes almost $30 million to improve flood pumps in Lismore, $3 million to increase community flood risk awareness, and $3 million to support community-led resilience initiatives.

The state’s rain and river gauges, which inform flood predictions and warnings, are owned by four different government entities.

The CSIRO found this created issues around accountability when they malfunctioned.

Whilst the cause of each gauge failure is yet to be determined, consistent maintenance of rain and river height gauges is likely to reduce the risk of gauge failure in future flood events,” it said.

It is recommended that the failures are investigated and equipment is strengthened for future flood events.”

The report identified some of the key failures, including a key rain gauge in the Lismore hinterland that recorded a zero reading throughout the event, despite torrential rain.

Even if it were functioning properly, it would have recorded an inaccurate reading as it is poorly placed under an overhanging tree,” the report said.

There was also a lack of gauges around Terania Creek, to the north of Lismore, which recorded some of the highest rainfall during the event.

This is despite the fact that, according to the Lismore flood plan, the two previous highest floods in Lismore – in 1954 and 1974 – were associated with very high rainfall over Terania Creek.

This lack of gauges “contributed to the underestimation of the flood peak at Lismore”, while a “lack of gauges in Bungawalbin catchment severely impacted warning times for towns downstream”.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 February 2023:

SES Commissioner Carlene York says the flood warning system for Lismore and the Northern Rivers remains inadequate, one year after a record-breaking disaster killed four people and left thousands homeless.

It’s not a satisfactory situation, put it that way,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald, agreeing that gaps in the region’s network of rain and river gauges left the city vulnerable.

Just as we have road traffic cameras so we can see what’s happening on the roads, from the SES point-of-view, we really want these gauges to give us timely information about what’s happening upstream so we can forecast the effects,” York said…..

Since the flood, the SES has permanently positioned five more boats in the Northern Rivers, as well as a high-clearance vehicle that can drive through floodwaters…..

State Labor MP for Lismore Janelle Saffin said the Northern Rivers gauge network should be the first fixed under the $15 million program.

It needs to be done sooner rather than later,” she said. “I’ve asked that question of senior [state] government – if, God forbid, the 28th of February happened again, what’s the plan?

I’d like it to be quicker on the gauges. I’m not sure it can be, but I’d certainly like it to be quicker than June 2025.”…..

Lismore Citizens Flood Review Group co-ordinator Beth Trevan said Lismore was still “very vulnerable” to flood and more needed to be done to protect the city.

She said it was worrying it could take another two years to improve the gauge network, but residents upstream were already able to provide information to warn the community before a flood – only SES headquarters did not know how to use it.

It worries me, as [the SES] take no notice what people in upper reaches are telling them,” she said.

As long as they’re relying on the BOM and the time it takes for the BOM to get the information from the gauges and put it through their computer systems, it’s never going to work. They need to go back to people.”

The CSIRO report also noted the value of information from property owners upstream…..


CSIRO 30 Nov 2022 report prepared for the National Emergency Management Agency, "Characterisation of the 2022 floods in the Northern Rivers region" can be found at: https://nema.gov.au/sites/default/files/inline-files/Characterisation%20of%20the%202022%20floods%20in%20the%20Northern%20Rivers%20region.pdf 


CSIRO 30 Nov 2022 report prepared for the National Emergency Management Agency, "Rapid Project Prioritisation for Flood Resilience in the Northern Rivers region" can be found at: https://nema.gov.au/sites/default/files/inline-files/Rapid%20Prioritisation%20for%20Flood%20Resilience%20in%20the%20Northern%20Rivers%20region.pdf


In the little town of Yamba on the Clarence Coast section of the Northern Rivers region we watched in disbelief and horror at what was unfolding to the north of us on the afternoon, evening and night of 28 February 2022 and what first light brought into view on 1 March. 

Whilst at the same time in the 24 hours up to 9am on 28 February 274.4mm of rain fell on Yamba township and continued to fall with another 258.2mm up to 9am on 1 March - initially driven by winds gusting up to 81km per hour - before the rain cell shifted position. 

This resulted in a mixture of river water and stormwater entering streets and/or properties it had either never entered before or had previously entered at lower water heights. All of which was exacerbated by flood waters still travelling down the Clarence River into the tidal estuary system. 

Active climate gauge and flood gauge station failures were not a feature of the town's surprise at this unexpected flooding pattern. 

Rather it was a belated realisation of the complete failure of successive local & state governments to give serious consideration to the level of risk associated with the extent and height of largescale land filling, which was now altering how both flood waters and stormwater (unable to be cleared by a drainage system design made inadequate by continuing urban growth) travelled across land within the town precincts. As well as the fact that this change in flood pattern meant more people became cut off from the town's risible evacuation plan & route.

Like the issues with the Northern Rivers flood watch system, the issue of Yamba's changed flood pattern remains unaddressed to date.

Saturday 25 February 2023

COVID-19 NSW STATE OF PLAY 2023: Counting Dead People - Part 3 "Will we choose to prevent Covid deaths?"



In Northern NSW by the week ending 11 February 2023 — in a published NSW Respiratory Surveillance Report which includes basic death demographics —  211 people had been newly confirmed (via PCR or RAT) as having contracted COVID-19, 11 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 infections and 4 people were reported to have died from COVID-19.

Statewide in New South Wales in that week ending 11 February 2023:

  • a total of 5,587 people were diagnosed with COVID-19;

  • 180 people were hospitalised with confirmed infections;

  • 61 people were reported as having died from COVID-19; and

  • all COVID-19 deaths were individuals aged between 50 and 90+ years of age.

NOTE: In the last 4 weeks up to 16 February 2023 — based on PCR test results only with all RAT results excluded — there were 135 confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded in Tweed Shire, 54 cases in Ballina Shire, 38 in Clarence Valley, 24 in Byron Shire, 22 in Lismore City, 11 in Richmond Valley and 3 in Kyogle Shire.

In Northern NSW by the week ending 18 February 2023 — in the most recently published NSW Respiratory Surveillance Report which includes basic death demographics —  189 people had been newly confirmed (via PCR or RAT) as having contracted COVID-19, 13 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 infections and 2 people were reported to have died from COVID-19.

Statewide in New South Wales in that week ending 18 February 2023:

  • a total of 5,777 people were diagnosed with COVID-19;

  • 201 people were hospitalised with confirmed infections;

  • 46 people were reported as having died from COVID-19; and

  • 2 COVID-19 deaths were children aged between 0-9 years, 1 was an adult between 40-49 years of age and the remaining 43 deaths were of individuals aged between 50 and 90+ years of age.

Tweets of the Week




Thursday 23 February 2023

North Coast Voices will not be posting on 23 & 24 February 2023

My apologies to North Coast Voices readers. Have temporarily run out of puff. Posting again on Saturday.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Northern NSW State of Play 2023: seven days out from the first anniversary of that catastrophic unnatural disaster, the Lismore & Northern Rivers Floods of 2022


The Guardian, 20 February 2023:

In February the hills and valleys of the New South Wales northern rivers are green and lush and fertile in the late summer sun. There is brightness in the madly proliferating tropical flora, radiance in the golden hour of the evening.

In the towns the mud has gone, mostly, and the smell too has faded; a semblance of normality returned to the main streets. As the foliage has returned, the devastation of the 2022 floods is more hidden now; the scale of what happened. The people who are changed.

As the anniversary of the disaster approaches, along with the cyclone season, for those left in the flood’s wake the impact is still unfolding. When the flood waters receded a year ago, for many, the disaster was only beginning.

You could hazard a guess that something like 15 to 20,000 people were impacted,” says Professor James Bennett Levy from the University of Sydney Centre for Rural Health. “I would say there’s been huge collective trauma as well as individual trauma.”

If I am doing a community event,” says Naomi Vaotuua, recovery and resilience officer for the Red Cross, “I will literally have grown men crying in my arms because it’s a cloudy day and they thought they were doing alright but they have been triggered.”

Kerry Pritchard, coordinator of recovery Hub 2484 in Murwillumbah, says: “I guess what is surfacing now is more residual complex trauma. We feel like we are still very much in the middle of it, at the coalface of supporting people. That is both in terms of rebuilding in a physical sense and also healing from that traumatic event.”

The northern rivers floods were Australia’s biggest natural disaster since Cyclone Tracy in 1974. It was the second-costliest event in the world for insurers in 2022, and the most expensive disaster in Australian history. Many residents had found premiums unaffordable and had no insurance at all.

The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC), funded by the federal and NSW governments, is currently assessing over 6,000 flood-impacted residences for buyback, raising or retrofit.

A survey released this month by Southern Cross University revealed that nine months after the event, at the end of 2022, almost 52% of flood victims were living in the shells of homes that had flooded; 26% were living in temporary accommodation such as caravans, sheds or pods, or with friends or family; 18% were living in insecure accommodation such as tents or temporary rentals; and 4% were no longer living in the region.

The departure of thousands of locals is one of the things that broke the heart of city councillor and executive director of Resilient Lismore, Elly Bird. “They are disconnected from their community and the people they went through that experience with and disconnected from our recovery journey and support. They are probably having a hard time,” Bird says.

Hanabeth Luke, senior lecturer in science and engineering at Southern Cross University, and one of the researchers behind the survey, said she was “shocked to see the low, low levels of mental health. Twenty percent of people said they were coping with the stresses and challenges of recovery and 60% said they were not coping.”

It is the housing uncertainty causing mental health strain, Luke says; the stress of “not being able to move forward, making do without a clear plan”. People live in substandard dwellings while they wait on government assessments or insurance payouts, not knowing whether to fix a house or if they might get a buyback. People camp out in caravans outside dilapidated abandoned houses, houses they are still paying mortgages and rates for. Families squeeze into a single motel room where they are not allowed to cook or have their pets.

Up until last month, the Koori Kitchen was still serving around around 700 free meals a day at Browns Creek car park in Lismore, says Koori Mail general manager Naomi Moran. It was forced to close as the council wanted the car spaces back to help support local business recovery.

These things take their toll.

What has been found is that the more you were likely to have been scared of injury or death, the higher the likelihood of PTSD,” says Bennett Levy. “Similarly, the more extensive the inundation the more likelihood of significant mental health issues. If we go back to the data we can say that the people who are displaced from home for more than six months are at very high risk of PTSD.”

Pritchard sees the data borne out in real life. “A year out and people are just worn down, they’re exhausted, they’re losing hope and just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re seeing a lot of suicidal ideation.” People who have always worked hard and supported themselves find themselves having to ask for help, she says. “There are a lot of feelings of shame and impotency around that.”

Those who could afford insurance are now coming to the end of the 52 weeks of temporary accommodation paid for by their insurers. For those locals, there is anxiety about whether they will get into the 11 pod villages built by Resilience NSW across the region. The villages aim to house 1,800 people for up to three years. Another 300 people are still in emergency accommodation…..

Read the full article here.

Southern Cross UniversityNew Southern Cross study reveals ongoing housing and mental health challenges for flood-affected, 7 February 2023:

A new Southern Cross University survey has shown almost 50 per cent of Northern Rivers flood victims were still displaced nine months after the devastating floods and landslides of 2022.

The survey, conducted by Southern Cross researchers in the latter months of last year, aimed to gain a better understanding of the ongoing struggles faced by flood-affected communities. The results paint a stark picture.

Of the 800 survey respondents, 52 percent were back living in a home that had flooded, while 26 per cent were either living in temporary accommodation such as caravans, sheds or pods, or with friends and family. A staggering 18 per cent of people reported they were living in ‘other’ insecure or crisis accommodation such as tents or temporary rentals and four per cent were no longer living in the region.

One fifth of respondents reported it was hard to find out what support was available to them, suggesting insufficient variety in information channels used to communicate with flood-affected residents. Additionally, nearly one third of insured survey respondents reported being ineligible for an insurance payout, and many cited excessive bureaucracy as a major barrier to accessing funding for recovery efforts. Survey respondents had to fill out an average 6-8 forms each to receive any financial assistance.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimates the cost of the 2022 east coast floods to be around AUD $5 billion in insurance damages. The Southern Cross survey results showed that while the most common cost of the flood was between $201,000-$500,000 to each respondent, the most common maximum amount received at the time of completing the survey was a tenth of that, at $21,000-$50,000.

"The findings of this survey are a sobering reminder of the ongoing impact of the floods on the Northern Rivers community," said lead researcher Dr Hanabeth Luke.

Flooding has affected dozens of rural and urban communities around the country and continues to do so, most recently in Western Australia. There are important learnings from this that can guide us and others to be better prepared next time,” she said.

Elly Bird, Executive Director of Resilient Lismore – a community organisation and partner in the survey – said "just 20 per cent of respondents report they are coping with the stresses and challenges of recovering from the floods, and more than 80 per cent agree that community hubs have been essential to their recovery.

Nearly 60 per cent of respondents still need help with access to tradespeople, and more than 45 per cent require access to building materials. This is holding up the recovery and needs to be addressed urgently.”

Many respondents reported not ‘being able to plan’ as a significant challenge.

The majority (96 per cent) of survey respondents saw community preparedness as most important for mitigating future events, with engineering solutions receiving a lower level of support than all other options.

"This study is a crucial tool in the ongoing efforts of our community to build back. Tapping into the experiences of those affected will help shape services and streamline processes and hold us in better stead for future events,” said Ms Bird.

Download the survey results here [PDF]