Months on from devastating Lismore floods, 1,300 people are still unable to return home

Three months on from Lismore’s devastating flood event in late February, 1,300 people remain in emergency accommodation and less than 20 percent of businesses are back operating.

Losing their home in the flood forced Nathan Rose, his heavily pregnant partner Tina Ashcroft and their seven children to camp out in tents on a family property next to the Wilsons River.

But when the second flood hit a month later, and their baby boy was born prematurely, they moved into two caravans on the farm to accommodate them all.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Mr Rose said.

A donated, temporary home installed this week in the backyard of their Lismore home has been a turning point, three months since they were made homeless.

Resilience NSW has confirmed as of this week, there are still more than 1,300 people in emergency accommodation across the Northern Rivers.

Teresa Blackley was renting at a caravan park at south Lismore when the peak of the flood hit.

A woman wearing glasses
Teresa Blackley was living in a tent for nine weeks, but says she’s one of the “lucky ones” to get a short-term rental.( ABC North Coast: Bronwyn Herbert)

She then moved 10 times between different camping sites around the area, including at Coraki, downstream of Lismore, when the second major flood hit the region in late March.

“During the second flood I had a heart attack and I had to be evacuated to the Lismore Base Hospital,” she said.

But she is now living in a rental home — not in a caravan or tent — she believes because she is “one of the lucky ones”.

Lismore City Council is now proposing a $400 million land swap, enabling people to move from the most flood-prone areas to higher ground.

Piles of debris and waste in a Lismore street.
Piles of debris and waste in a Lismore street after the 2022 floods.(ABC News: Gavin Coote)

Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg, who had both his family home and business flooded to the ceiling, believes people “smarter than him” should be making the big decisions on how to make a land-swap work.

“What’s more expensive is continually rebuilding by doing the same things over and over; we’ve got to do things differently this time around,” he said.

“There is no question of that.”

Lismore City Council estimates 250 shops are now open across the CBD and the industrial estate in South Lismore.

The front of an empty shop
Fewer than 20 percent of shops are back operating in Lismore’s CBD.(ABC News: Bronwyn Herbert)
A man poses next to a fire place
Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg had both his home and business damaged in the February flood event.(ABC North Coast: Bronwyn Herbert)

“Everyday there is progress, you know you need to look for green shoots in disasters like this and it’s really good to see those businesses slowly coming back to life again,” Mr Krieg said.

It’s also been a challenging time for landlords.

Adrian Katschke, a retired insurance broker, has been working flat out to refit the two shops he owns in Lismore’s Strand Arcade.

A man poses inside a building
Adrian Katschke has been working hard to refit the two shops he owns.(ABC North Coast: Bronwyn Herbert)

He said one tenant had just moved in, and the ice-cream chain that was renting his kerb-side space wasn’t returning.

“We sadly lost our tenant, now we have to hang a sign on the wall saying open for lease and just keep our fingers crossed,” he said.

“I think it all takes time.

But there are green shoots emerging.

The owners of the city’s major shopping center have confirmed that four of its major retailers will re-open in July, with the other 70 tenants in various stages of dealing with insurance claims, government grant applications and fit outs.

A man in hard hat poses outside a retail center
Gary McConaghy says a lot of people rely on Lismore Square for work.(ABC North Coast: Bronwyn Herbert)

Gary McConaghy, chief executive of McConaghy Properties, said it’s an important vote of confidence in the town to open as soon as possible.

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