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Byron Shire
September 27, 2022

Lismore flood review describes response as ‘chaotic and grossly negligent’

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At 2.43am a SES (State Emergency Service) text was received by people in the Tweed and Byron Shire warning of ‘Heavy rain, dangerous flash flooding for Tweed Byron area overnight’ with possible ‘flash flooding and rapid river rises’ in ‘low-lying areas’.

A flooded Lismore received a drenching from the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
A flooded Lismore received a drenching from the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

A South Lismore trucking business  lost three fully loaded trucks during the March flood because a policeman refused to remove a barrier blocking their escape from rising flood-waters, despite the road to higher ground being clear.

The drivers of the three trucks had earlier spent hours on the Thursday helping various businesses move their stock and equipment out of the flood waters to safety, at no cost.

Their story is highlighted in a review of the flood response prepared by Lismore citizens, including former mayor Ros Irwin, Keith Alcock, who headed the SES during the 1974 flood, Tony Madden, a former regional emergency welfare coordinator, Peter Thorpe, an engineer who constructed sections of the Lismore levee and Beth Trevan, a South Lismore business woman.

The story of the trucking firm recounts how as evening approached the truck drivers returned to their own business and loaded the three trucks with produce and equipment and proceeded to drive the trucks out of their South Lismore premises to higher ground.

But with the road to Caniaba blocked, they tried to escape over the Ballina Street bridge to higher ground through the CBD.

Their escape was blocked by a barrier, and a police officer told them they would be fined if they parked the trucks on the bridge.

Meanwhile, SES and police were still patrolling the CBD in vehicles, and it was hours before the levee was overtopped.

The drivers were forced to park their trucks near Heritage Park where there was no water at the time.

It was around midnight and SES personnel were still patrolling the CBD in vehicles at that time and it was more than three hours before the levee overtopped and still possible to safely exit to higher ground via Molesworth, Conway, Keen, Orion and Leycester Streets.

‘Presumably the policeman drove from the bridge to safety that way,’ the report says.

‘All that was required was for the barrier to be moved aside whilst the trucks moved through and replaced again ….. but as the water rose the parked fully loaded trucks all went under at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company.’

The story of the lost trucks was included in the review to highlight what the authors say was a ‘chaotic and grossly negligent’ handling of the flood by the NSW and Richmond Tweed SES.

‘The lack of timely warning, coupled with the premature evacuation order, led to unprecedented and avoidable costs to those in the community who obeyed them,’ the review says.

‘Sidelining the Lismore City SES in critical decision-making deprived the community of local knowledge so vital within a constantly changing community.

‘No centralised organisation can pretend to match the years of experience and memory which have served the Lismore community so well in the past.

‘The Flood Warnings issued by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) underestimated the situation and were not upgraded in a timeframe reflecting the evolving emergency conditions.

‘Many practical measures need to be implemented to avoid a repeat of this unfortunate bureaucratic fiasco.’

Coordinator of the Lismore Citizen’s Review, Beth Trevan, said the review had put forward recommendations to ensure the March 2017 experience was never repeated.

The overarching recommendations of the Citizens’ Review are:

  • the practical, knowledgeable and skilled Lismore City SES Unit must be front and centre in an emergency flood situation in Lismore and directly involved in the provision of public information
  • the role of the Regional Headquarters must be to act as a logistics and coordination team to back up and support the Lismore City SES Unit in every possible way
  • the NSW SES Headquarters team must support the Regional Team and sign off immediately on warnings and orders




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  1. “the practical, knowledgeable and skilled Lismore City SES Unit ” proved themselves to be very nearly totally incompetent , this is a volunteer group with little knowledge,experience or skill. The SES had no plan prepared and no logical way to deal with a totally predicted flood event , their communication system did not work ( or at least those members on the ground had no idea what was happening in the overall situation ).
    Now I’m sure there are some wonderful people in this group, they have little in the way of skills or organisation and god help anybody who rely on them in an emergency.
    Lismore had TWO days warning, those that had no warning were the rural communities outside the suburbs and the CBD many of these people are still waiting for any assistance. The much vaunted Lismore Flood Appeal was only directed to those suburbs, within the confines of Lismore, that were deemed to be flood affected, while those in the areas most affected by the deluge, of over one meter of rainfall, were not eligible for assistance and must still cope with massive landslides across public roads and areas were whole lanes of bitumen have disappeared down cliffs. the idea of evaluating the response to this disaster must be postponed until the response has happened !

  2. Ken, it is evident that your comment is based on an assumption that is quite incorrect. We have spent 6 weeks thoroughly investigating the BOM, the NSW SES and the behaviour at the Regional Headquarters. The independent Review of the flood congratulated the Lismore City SES team for the great work they did and clearly describes the Regional Headwuarters as a chaotic and confused environment being run by people who had no local knowledge and had no idea who was in charge. Members of the Lismore City SES are not permitted to give out any information to the public. By law that can only be done by the salaried RIchmond Tweed Regional staff and /or NSW SES staff in Wollongong and thereiin lies the problem. All the information that is available to the Regional Headquarters and NSW SES from the Lismore City Unit was completely ignored by the salaried staff …. and the disaster we had was the result. Be very grateful we have a Lismore City SES. They were the ones who did all the rescues.


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