Three weeks after the most devastating flood in its history, parts of Lismore still look like a ghost town.
- Deadly floods in Lismore – the worst on record – have raised serious questions about the city’s future
- There is an ongoing debate about whether to rebuild or relocate
- A veteran SES official says there have been five “one-in-35-year” floods in the city in the past 60 years
There is no electricity, shops are empty, hundreds of houses are empty and the foul smell of rot spreads in the air.
According to Resilience NSW, over 2,600 homes in the local government area were significantly damaged and more than 2,000 are considered uninhabited.
It was the city’s second major flood in five years and scenes of desperate people being rescued from rooftops spread around the world.
Four people died.
no choice but to stay
In the horrific event there are many considerations as to whether, how and when the city can be rebuilt.
North Lismore couple Will Nissen and Nikki Fitzsimmons, who lost almost everything, say they will clean up and start all over again.
“Although there’s really no other option,” Ms Fitzsimmons said.
“We know that back home there is a chance that everything will flood again.
“Maybe we actually live minimalistic, zen lives?”
Realistic real estate?
Those who decide to sell and move may struggle to find somewhere within their budget.
In the notoriously hot North Coast property market, areas such as North and South Lismore were considered relatively affordable.
Lismore real estate agent Clint McCarthy said it is difficult to predict the kind of impact such a devastating natural disaster would have on property prices.
“Actually we are talking to a lot of finance brokers, appraisers, and we are in an unknown,” he said.
“It still has to be an entry-level market.
Flood insurance is a luxury that few people can afford to live and work on a floodplain, with premiums running into the thousands of dollars annually.
Federal member for Page, Kevin Hogan, said there is now a precedent for the Commonwealth to reduce insurance in high-risk areas.
“We recently passed legislation for Far North Queensland, and it was done as a pilot,” he said.
“It is now – it is a vehicle that we can use and we have to look at that as well.
Can the city be moved?
Lismore Mayor Steve Craig said the idea was to move people from flood-affected areas to higher places in the wake of the natural disaster.
“Obviously we have talked about it, as a council you will not be careless,” he said.
“If there are homes that are condemned and no longer viable to live in, then yes, we have to make some tough decisions.
“Obviously, there are highlands around Lismore, but many of them are not affordable for people who live here in the CBD or around North and South Lismore.
“We may be able to offer a buyback plan, as they did in Grantham after the Locker Valley floods in 2011.
There have also been calls to increase the levy, created in 2005 at a cost of $21 million.
It was overtopped for the first time in 2017, when the Wilson River reached nearly 11.6 metres.
This year’s flood was about 3 meters higher.
Vanessa Eakins, a former mayor and former chair of the Lismore Floodplain Management Committee, said it was impossible to save the city from an event of that magnitude.
The federal government has pledged $10m to fund flood modeling for the Northern Rivers region.
Richard Travan of Our Future Northern River said the scale of the problem is too large to be left in the hands of the local government.
He said the city has always been the service center of the area, housing facilities such as Lismore Base Hospital and Southern Cross University.
“The impact is being felt regionally,” Mr Travan said.
It’s not a problem that’s going to go away.
Ed Bennett, the state emergency service flood intelligence officer for the Lismore City Unit, has identified a worrying trend.
“I calculated that the 2017 floods were one flood in 35 years,” he said.