Less than three hours before the flood began the Bureau of Meteorology was still forecasting only 120 to 200mm of rain. This was despite being notified 12 months ago by TweedCAN that their forecasts were grossly underestimating rain in this catchment. Even as flood gauges rose vertically, flood warnings had not been upgraded.
More hours passed before evacuations were announced but by then bridges were under, power had failed in many areas and school buses were struggling to get kids home. Then the chaos began. Which routes were closed and where? Was their an emergency route to Tweed Hospital? Where was fuel still available?
Last year TweedCAN sent detailed information to the Tweed/Byron Emergency Management Committee warning of fast rising floods underestimated by forecasts especially in Autumn. The was no response. Nor was there any response to suggestions for involving the community, improving information flow, secure emergency routes and assistance for the elderly. After a summer breaking all temperature records you might think the decision makers would be taking climate change seriously. Unfortunately there are administrators and long serving councillors that refuse to accept global warming and there are more who shirk the issue as politically contentious.
So despite the tireless efforts of council workers and emergency volunteers most of us we were left to cope on our own . Isolated communities banded together to do what they could though nothing had been prepared. The myroadinfo website struggled to keep up but the reports were too few, too sketchy and too slow to be updated. Far better was the community facebook page “Murwillumbah Matters” where people posted usable information on what routes were open.
Emergency planning has to change. It has to involve the community as partners, not just as sheep to be herded or left stranded. Resilience and independence has to be encouraged for locations prone to isolation and across the Tweed generally. Resources need to be focused on upgrading selected emergency routes to serve us better in a crisis. And decision makers who still doubt climate change should seek other roles where their prejudice will be less costly to us all.