Two women have become the first fatalities in Cyclone Debbie’s devastating aftermath as residents of several New South Wales towns are warned they will not be home for some time with five areas declared natural disaster zones.
One woman’s body was found by a family member yesterday morning on a flooded property in northern NSW.
Police say she disappeared overnight in floodwaters at Upper Burringbar, 20km south of Murwillumbah.
No one else at the property was injured and a police spokeswoman said it was still unclear exactly how the woman died.
“It took police a few hours to reach the property due to flooding,” she said.
A 64-year-old woman died in the Hunter region after her and her husband’s car was swept off a causeway at Gungal, west of Muswellbrook.
There are also concerns for residents who have called for help but cannot yet be reached.
Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed local government areas have been declared natural disaster zones following the worst flooding in decades, while Lismore’s centre is inundated.
Some 628mm of rain has fallen over the Wilsons River valley since Thursday. At Murwillumbah, the Tweed River level peaked slightly higher than the 1954 flood early yesterday at 6.2 metres.
The natural disaster declarations mean fixing damaged public infrastructure, including roads, will be prioritised.
Individuals, however, will have to wait until assessments are done and floodwaters have receded to access funding, NSW Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant says.
Heavy rain hit the region when
ex-tropical Cyclone Debbie collided with a cold front from the south. About 20,000 people were ordered to leave their homes in northern NSW.
“It may be some days before people are able to access their properties again,” NSW SES acting deputy commissioner Mark Morrow told reporters in Sydney.
The emergency organisation has responded to 330 calls for assistance since Thursday afternoon and they keep coming in. Mr Morrow says the biggest risk now is complacency.
“If you don’t need to go out, then don’t,” he said.
Nimbin residents were told to boil their water after the council warned supply in some parts was not being treated.