Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been confronted by a distressed local as he tours flood-stricken New South Wales.
Mr Albanese was visiting a volunteer emergency relief shelter on Wednesday afternoon when he and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet spoke to Windsor resident Scott Hicks.
“Somebody needs to pick up the ball and run with it,” a clearly frustrated Mr Hicks told the pair.
“Otherwise you’re going to visit here again. They’re already talking, in September, that we’ve got this flood happening again.”
Mr Hicks said floodwaters were four metres into his property. But he said he was lucky his house hadn’t been inundated because he was uninsured.
“No one’s going to help me clean up … Out the backyard, I’ve got chemical containers that have floated in,” he said.
“We actually need action now. Your governments need to start working together. You’ve had flood studies since 2012 … but nothing’s happened.”
Mr Albanese and Mr Perrottet, who were accompanied by federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt and NSW Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke, listened as Mr Hicks and other locals outlined the distress of facing their fourth serious flood in just 18 months.
Deputy mayor Barry Calvert said this week’s flooding in the Hawkesbury region was even worse than in March, and possibly the worst in 50 years.
The weather bureau has recorded major flooding along the Hawkesbury River at North Richmond, Windsor, Sackville, Lower Portland and Wiseman’s Ferry.
Mr Calvert said many people had just finished rebuilding or renovating months after the last flood.
“They’re fed up, they have flood fatigue. There are people talking about not going back,” he said.
“But there’s also a lot of good stories about our volunteers. It shows us to be a very strong and resilient community.”
On Wednesday, while damage assessments began in drenched areas around Sydney, much of the focus moved to the mid-north coast and the Hunter valley as the severe weather moved north.
The NSW State Emergency Service has issued 108 evacuation orders and 56 evacuation warnings, affecting 85,000 people across the state.
SES Commissioner Carlene York said the agency had another busy night, conducting 21 flood rescues and urged people to follow warnings and orders to evacuate.
“People have taken a risk and remained in those houses and then found out the risk is too great, and we have to go in and save those families,” Ms York
Eleven evacuation centres have opened to support people ordered to flee their homes, including new ones in the Hunter and Central Coast at Cessnock, Singleton and The Entrance.
The Hunter River is being monitored closely at Singleton, where major flooding is expected. The Bureau of Meteorology’s Jane Golding said the river could reach up to 13.8 metres and the risks would remain even once the weather cleared.
“[We are] starting to see some some fine weather on the horizon, but [it will] take a bit of time for the floodwaters to come down,” she said.
The Hunter had already endured flooding worse than in March this year and last year at Bulga and Wollombi on the Wollombi Brook, Ms Golding said.
Wollombi cafe owner Justin Scrymgeour was one of many residents who went out in tinnies on Tuesday night to make sure everyone was safe.
“The whole town is shut down. Everyone is coming out to help everyone. We were dragging furniture out of the pub last night, everyone just chipped in,” Mr Scrymgeour said.
“It is pretty full on, with roads cut off in all directions, but everyone has got food and they’re safe, which is good.”
The weather bureau said Wollombi Brook peaked at 14.2 metres at 1am on Wednesday. Locals said it was area’s second worst flood since 1949, when 500 millimetres of rain fell over two days.
Brooke, another Hunter community, was also cut off by floodwaters on Tuesday night.
Residents in the small village of Glen Davis, in the NSW Capertee Valley, are also cut off, with roads and bridges submerged.
Jason Grimshaw, the village’s Rural Fire Service deputy captain, said the community was starting to ration food, though SES crews in neighbouring towns were on stand-by for emergency drop offs.
“It’s pretty wet, to say the least,” Mr Grimshaw said, adding that the yards of many properties, the former police station and the pub had been flooded.
Nearby, in the Blue Mountains, mayor Mark Greenhill said there had been road slips, felled trees and massive road damage, as emergency services worked in high winds and rain.
The Blaxland library was inundated and would be closed indefinitely due to black mould.
Cr Greenhill said the damage bill was estimated to be $400 million, more than four times what the council raises through rates.
“With the umpteenth natural disaster declaration in recent times, we anticipate we’ll need significant support from state government,” he said.
The mountains were ravaged by bushfires in 2013, when 200 homes were destroyed in two hours, followed by major storms, then Black Summer in 2019-20.
“There needs to be a complete policy rethink in NSW because multiple natural disasters back-to-back are the new norm as the effects of climate change are now felt,” Cr Greenhill said.
He said the community was weary.
“There is a mood that people are fatigued by the multiple natural disasters. They’re over it.”
The BOM predicts the bad weather will ease on Thursday as the low pressure system tracks out to sea.
“Friday could be quite a nice day,” Ms Golding said.
The SES has 1000 volunteers supporting isolated communities, and has requested assistance from other states. Mr Albanese said another 150 Australian Defence Force members would join the 100 already on the ground on Thursday,
He has also approved federal financial support, which will be available from Thursday afternoon. Adults in 23 local government areas in NSW will be eligible for a $1000 disaster recovery payment, plus $400 for every child.
For employees and sole traders who lose income due to the floods, the disaster recovery allowance will be available for up to 13 weeks.
The payments would hit people’s bank accounts as quickly as possible, Senator Watt said.
“There are some people who are still waiting for approval of payments from earlier floods … we intend to address that going forward,” he said.
“These payments announced today, they are quick, simple payments to get out the door as quickly as possible and that’s what we intend to do.”
Mr Albanese visit to rain-ravaged areas came a day after he returned to Australia following a trip to Europe for the NATO summit and to war-torn Ukraine.
Mr Perrottet said the federal government had to balance international and domestic concerns.
“The response between the Commonwealth government and the state has been pleasing,” he said.
Mr Albanese said negative comments about his travel “says more about the people who’ve laid the criticism than it does about myself”.
“I was fulfilling a responsibility I believe I had of travelling to Ukraine and to compare that with a holiday is beyond contempt, frankly,” he said.
“When I returned from [Ukraine] … I immediately spoke to Premier Perrottet … and made sure that every support was being offered.”