John Lawrence, Shyam Bryan and Johnny Norris helped rescue 15 people from the flooded Greenhills Caravan Park in South Murwillumbah.
John Lawrence, Shyam Bryan and Johnny Norris helped rescue 15 people from the flooded Greenhills Caravan Park in South Murwillumbah. Nikki Todd

2017 in Review: Debbie devastates the Tweed

THE FLOOD of March 2017 will forever live in the memory of locals caught up in the catastrophic deluge of ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which left a trail of destruction in its path and claimed the lives of six Tweed residents.

The record flood hit the shire on March 30 and 31, as Debbie hovered over the Tweed's upper catchment area, inundating the region with record rainfall, causing the Tweed River to peak at Uki at 12.91m (1.51m higher than the 1974 record) and 6.25m at Murwillumbah (0.21m above 1954 record).

Flood tragedies

TRAGEDY: Stephanie King and her children, Ella-Jane Kabealo, Chloe Kabealo, and Jacob Kabealo.
TRAGEDY: Stephanie King and her children, Ella-Jane Kabealo, Chloe Kabealo, and Jacob Kabealo. Facebook

The body of 35-year old woman Gitana Schiphoni was found by family members a day after she was swept away by floodwaters on their property at Upper Burringbar on March 30.

Mark Austin, aged 45, was found dead in his flooded caravan after floodwaters washed through Greenhills Caravan Park at Murwillumbah.

Matthew Roser, 46, died of a suspected heart attack as floodwaters inundated his South Murwillumbah home.

Days after the flood, Tumbulgum was rocked by another tragedy after a Bilambil mother and two of her children died when their car careered into the Tweed River.

Stephanie King, 43, was driving her three children, Ella-Jane Kabealo, 11, Chloe-May Kabealo, 9, and Jacob Kabealo, 7, along flood-damaged Dulguigan Rd when their car went into the river.

Chloe-May, the only survivor, managed to miraculously escape the submerged vehicle and ran to a nearby house for help.

Both Ms King and Chloe-May were heralded as heroes by police and the community for their acts of bravery in trying to save their family.

Police divers were called in from Sydney to retrieve the bodies a day after the tragic accident, which according to police, was made even more difficult due to the swollen and murky floodwaters.

Ms King and her two children were farewelled by more than 300 family members, friends and dignitaries at Elevation Church, Tweed Heads on April 12.

Our flood heroes

Johnny Norris, Shyam Bryan and John Lawrence return to the Greenhills Caravan Park at South Murwillumbah on April 22, to meet up for the first time since the floods. The trio helped to save 13 lives during the height of the flood.
Johnny Norris, Shyam Bryan and John Lawrence return to the Greenhills Caravan Park at South Murwillumbah on April 22, to meet up for the first time since the floods. The trio helped to save 13 lives during the height of the flood. Nikki Todd

THERE were many people throughout the flood who risked their lives to protect friends and family but it was the SES, police and emergency services who really put their necks on the line to keep the community safe.

The SES worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of Tweed residents, assisting in the rescue of hundreds of people across the shire. Three South Murwillumbah men were also recognised for their heroic efforts after they risked their lives to save 13 people trapped in Greenhills Caravan Park during the height of the flood.

After hearing calls for help, Johnny Norris, 33, John Lawrence, 22, and Shyam Bryan, 34, used a tinny to rescue people clinging to poles and standing on caravan roofs while water up to 3m deep lapped at their feet.

The Tweed-Byron Police also showed great courage during and after the floods, especially when they were called to assist after the car carrying Stephanie King and her children plunged into the Tweed River. In a bid to provide further assistance, the police raised more than $13,000 for the Kabealo family and other flood victims.

Residents banded together to help with the clean-up, organising everything from muddy town clean-ups to hot meals, fresh food, clean clothing and many a shoulder to cry on.

Those groups continued, with the formation of the Murwillumbah group 'It Takes a Town' continuing to lobby for support for victims.

Assistance needed

Tweed Shire Council Mayoress Katie Milne briefs current Australian Prime Minister Mr Malcolm Turnbull MP about the disaster struck township of Murwillumbah after heavy rain caused the Tweed River to break its banks and flood the Town.Photo: Scott Powick Daily News
Tweed Shire Council Mayoress Katie Milne briefs current Australian Prime Minister Mr Malcolm Turnbull MP about the disaster struck township of Murwillumbah after heavy rain caused the Tweed River to break its banks and flood the Town.Photo: Scott Powick Daily News SCOTT POWICK

THE devastation caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie quickly caught the attention of the national media, politicians and volunteers wanting to help those financially and emotionally effected by the floods.

Days after the flood, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian visited the region, alongside local politicians, with all three levels of government offering financial support to victims.

The Federal Government announced a Category C assistance package for small businesses affected by floods. While the assistance was a welcome relief for many, there were delays in handing out the financial assistance packages to some parts of the shire.

Tweed primary producers, businesses, community organisations and residents were also given access to NSW State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

The NSW Government also delivered a $1-million business support package and $40,000 in funding to Lifeline to help with crisis support services and suicide prevention.

After months of collecting public donations, more than $430,000 was raised by the Mayoral Flood Appeal.

Homeless crisis

Tweed residents calling for more affordable housing, including Jody Mulliss and her family who have been made homeless as a result of the flood.
Tweed residents calling for more affordable housing, including Jody Mulliss and her family who have been made homeless as a result of the flood. Nikki Todd

MANY residents suffered extensive damage to their properties during the floods, forcing some to leave their homes for long periods of time waiting for insurance claims and repairs to be completed.

The Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) assisted almost 1300 people with accommodation in the aftermath of the flood, while data obtained from NSW Fire and Rescue estimated 2100 houses were flooded.

More than 4000 people presented at the Lismore and Murwillumbah recovery centres after the floods seeking some form of assistance. While help was available, many felt more could have been done.

Shortly after the floods, more than 100 people took to the streets of Murwillumbah calling for urgent action for more affordable housing, a call that continues up until the present day. The protest saw the NSW Government quickly announce $12 million to help increase social and affordable housing supply in the region.

But still many residents are fighting an uphill battle with insurance companies after a slow response to flood claims, even prompting Burringbar residents to turn to the Financial Ombudsman Service to speed up their claims.



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