A second winter without walls in Northern Rivers

Flood recovery continues

In April 2022, when over 14 metres of floodwater receded, Lismore and the NSW Northern Rivers region emerged as a national focal point. A wave of dedicated volunteers poured in from near and far, joining together to assist residents in the daunting task of clearing out mud, salvaging furniture, and repairing floors, walls and ceilings, all in a collective effort to safeguard homes from the encroaching menace of mould.

At the end of 2022, a Southern Cross University study revealed that almost half of residents surveyed remain displaced from their homes, confined to their sheds, tents, caravans or with friends or family.

Beneath the headlines are the many stories of untold personal tragedy, loss and trauma as people struggle to come to terms with a new reality. Flood survivors continue to face a compounding crisis of unmet physical and emotional needs. Survivors face a second winter of uncovered walls and limited access to basic hygiene amenities­, a far cry from the famously known “Lucky Country”.

Recovery has slowed to a crawl, leaving the burden of the region on the shoulders of volunteers.

As the focus of the nation has since shifted away from Lismore and the Northern Rivers, the recovery has slowed to a crawl, leaving the burden of the region on the shoulders of volunteers and local community hubs, many of which are impacted residents themselves.

On 1 June, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers returned to the region in partnership with community-run charity organisation, Resilient Lismore. The team from Samaritan’s Purse are made up of mostly retired tradespeople and other volunteers who are tackling a wide scope of jobs, from cleaning mud off walls to installing flat-pack kitchens, yard work, plumbing and electrical work, as well as painting and other finishing touches for people who have already completed their own repairs.

Samaritan's Purse aid recovery after Lismore floods

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers help with the recovery effort

Robyn Kelly, Operations Coordinator at Resilient Lismore, spoke to our team about the ongoing struggle of thousands of residents in the Northern Rivers regions of Lismore, Wardell, Broadwater, Coraki, Kilgin and more, many living in bare-framed homes and outdoor camp-style kitchen and bathroom arrangements.

“Our objective is to repair to return, and that includes homes that are warm, secure, safe and have basic sanitation. A lot of these homes have still got no toilets and bathrooms – people are still using buckets. So that’s a major objective to get these jobs done,” said Robyn.

80-year-old homeowner, Faye, tragically lost her daughter weeks after the flood, leaving behind her primary-aged foster son. Faye was left to put their lives back together and six months on, her home was still in disrepair. Over three days, Samaritans Purse’s team of volunteers attended to her overgrown yard, repaired and dog-proofed her fencing, restored the non-working plumbing in the laundry and removed damaged asbestos walls.

“They’ve just done an amazing job, more than anyone could have hoped for. They were just fantastic people,” said Faye.

“It wasn’t just like the physical blessing, all the work that was done, it was a real blessing from God.”

Samaritan's purse relief after Lismore floods

So far, Samaritan’s Purse has completed restorative work in 30 homes and will continue to work until 10 July to meet the needs of residents in Lismore and the affected Northern Rivers region, including Wardell, Broadwater, Kilgin and Coraki.

Dan Stephens, Australian Disaster Relief Manager said, “What we hear a lot of is, ‘Oh, this would’ve taken me a month to do myself, and you guys were able to knock it out in a day’, and that’s what we want to do. It’s that power in numbers and it’s the power of community.

“And what I’m hearing from my guys is that this is one of the first times in doing the disaster relief work that they’ve been able to take their skills that they’ve developed throughout their life, their professional skills, and apply them to the context of like helping people. They’re putting stuff back in as opposed to ripping it out.”

To follow coverage of the Lismore floods relief response and information about how to help, volunteer or donate, visit samaritanspurse.org.au.

Samaritan’s Purse Australia and New Zealand respond to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations like the Lismore floods. Globally, Samaritan’s Purse works in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution.