Committee finds government agencies ignored flood warning

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Committee finds government agencies ignored flood warning

A parliamentary inquiry found that the government agencies in charge of preparing for and responding to major flooding in New South Wales have failed their communities.

Hundreds of people were killed and thousands of people were displaced or cut off when flooding devastated the Northern Rivers region in late February.

Despite the calls from authorities to stand down, residents took to boats and jet skis to rescue each other from rooftops, and took axes and other equipment to cut open roof cavities in which people were stuck.

The parliamentary committee, led by Labor's Walt Secord, took evidence at a series of hearings across the state's north and Western Sydney, where floods also became deadly.

The report found that information from the State Emergency Service and Bureau of Meteorology was incorrect and out of date leaving the community with no other option but to ignore government advice and save lives. It recommended that the State Emergency Service, the state's lead agency in a flood event, be restructured and employ more salaried staff.

It urged the weather bureau to review its rain data infrastructure and flood modelling tools.

Billy Curry, a resident of Lismore, was one of many in the tinny army who took it upon themselves to rescue people when his hometown went down.

He said there didn't seem to be enough resources to assess and respond to the situation, and that the community would have been in a lot of trouble without the help of impromptu volunteers. There were scenes where you were ducking under power lines and street lights in a boat.

That's something you don't forget, because we lifted 64 older people from an elderly aged care place into a boat. Curry said he wanted the State Emergency Service to adopt a database of volunteers who had lifesaving skills and equipment such as jet skis, which could be briefed via SMS in an emergency.

There was no management of who was in the water and how many people were volunteering, Mr Curry said.

There was absolutely chaos because there was no database of managing the demand of incidences. The committee has recommended that the NSW Government abolish Resilience NSW, the disaster recovery agency set up in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires, which is currently led by former Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

The inquiry is separate to an independent report that the government has received but not made public, and the ABC understands that it will recommend dismantling Resilience NSW.

The weather bureau, Resilience NSW, and the State Emergency Service have been contacted by the ABC for comment.

A spokesman for the NSW Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said they didn't know when the report would be presented and that the minister wouldn't be able to comment until the NSW Government receives the report and has an opportunity to review and respond to Demarcation disputes between NSW Government agencies slowed the roll out of support.