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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Did the SES order flood evacuation too soon?

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A flooded  Lismore received a drenching from the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
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The evacuation order from the SES during the recent flood may have prevented many businesses from taking the necessary steps to lift or remove stock from their premises, resulting in increased damages and community distress.

That’s according to Lismore City councillor Bill Moorhouse, who was the chief engineer at the council when the controversial levee was.built in 2005.

Lismore City councillor Bill Moorhouse. (supplied)
Lismore City councillor Bill Moorhouse. (supplied)

Mr Moorhouse now wants answers as to why business owners were told the leave the CBD just after 4pm on Thursday, 30 May.

He has lodged a notice of motion for the next council meeting calling for the Minister of Police and Emergency Services to arrange an independent assessment of the management of the flood.

He points out that the levee was designed to prevent small floods from entering the CBD and to give businesses more time to evacuate.

‘At around 4pm the Bureau of Meteorology officially advised that the Wilsons River would overtop the CBD levee in the early hours of Friday morning,’ Mr Moorhouse has written in comments to his motion.

‘Soon after this the SES put out an evacuation order for the CBD and followed this up with staff patrolling the city and ordering people to leave immediately.

‘This prevented many businesses taking the necessary action to lift or remove stock from their premises.

He said businesses that defied the evacuation order had 10-13 hours to lift or remove stock before the levee overtopped.

‘The concept of an orderly retreat from the CBD was built into the design of the levee, Even after the levee overtopped it took 4-6 hours for the floodwaters to enter most of the city.

Mr Moorhouse has accused ‘those in authority’ of either not knowing how the levee was designed to work or simply choosing to ‘do their own thing’.

In response to the motion, the council’s manager of assets, Scott Turner, has pointed out that it was the first time that the levee had been over-topped since it was completed in 2005.

He also notes that the SES is the designated response agency for floods and is charged with leading the response.

‘It is considered important to differentiate the actions of SES staff and volunteers in assisting the community on the ground, for which much thanks and praise has been received, from the issues raised in the notice of motion which seek to understand decision making processes and systems within the SES,’ he responded.

‘Those processes are determined and managed from higher levels of the organisation. ‘

Mr Turner said the SES had already started an after-event review which would include public forums.

‘The Local Emergency Management Committee has also conducted a review of the event from an all agency operational perspective and the Floodplain Management Committee has similarly commenced a review.

‘All of these processes will deliver recommendations for improvements and change based on the lessons learned in this event.

‘It is considered important in any request for additional reviews over and above what is already occurring, that the processes already in train be acknowledged and respected.

‘Any additional or independent review should include information and outcomes from those reviews already in progress and seek to value add rather than work separately. ‘

The council will consider Mr Moorhouse’s motion next Tuesday.

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  1. Good on you Bill. A full ranging inquiry would be very useful because it may shine some light on why local knowledge seems to have been ignored: eg, people from Terania and The Channon notified SES that record flooding was observed there and that advice seems to have been misunderstood or ignored.

  2. The answer to Darren Coyne’s headline is Yes. Simple as that. And I would go as far as saying the fact that Bill Morehouse’s motion was passed without dissent means all the Councillors know that as well.


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