Businesses in flood-affected areas will be able to access grants and bank loans to fund their recovery, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced, as the clean-up of flood-ravaged NSW begins in earnest.
Mr Morrison announced a loan scheme would be extended to small and medium business as he visited the SES headquarters in western Sydney on Saturday morning.
He said the federal government will underwrite 80 per cent of bank loans of up to $5 million for small and medium businesses in the flood-affected areas, with repayments to start two years into the loan.
It’s an extension of a support program already available for COVID-affected businesses.
“This is about backing the businesses and producers that are backing themselves to get back on their feet,” Mr Morrison declared.
He promised “more support … more assistance” as the recovery continues.
The loans are on top of a recovery grants program jointly funded by the federal and NSW governments.
Small businesses can get up to $50,000 and primary producers up to $75,000 if they’ve been directly damaged by the floods.
As tens of thousands of people across NSW return to their homes, an emergency services strike force is tackling the clean-up of homes, roads and communities.
“The Australian Defence Force personnel, alongside NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW, have already been deployed,” Minister for Emergency Management David Littleproud said.
Teams are going from house to house, hosing out properties and removing damaged items, as well as sandbagging and clearing debris.”
NSW has seen a run of sunny, warm days after the massive deluge, but more than 8000 residents were still cast from their homes on Friday evening as evacuation orders remained in place in certain areas.
Flooding has eased in many parts of the state but orders remain around Moree and the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley in northwest Sydney.
Dozens more homes were evacuated on the Mid North Coast towns of Grassy Head and Stuarts Point on Friday evening after septic tanks overflowed, spilling sewage through the townships.
The Australian Red Cross is warning of a lack of access to mental health services.
“Our volunteers have heard stories about the distress about leaving homes, livestock and even a change of clothes behind,” Red Cross NSW Director Poppy Brown said in a statement.
“Many of these communities have already endured years of concurrent disasters, from drought, bushfires, COVID-19 and now floods. The impact of this latest disaster is expected to be significant.”
Those returning to their flood-damaged homes should first check for damage to the roof and walls and ensure the power and gas are off, the SES said.
Residents should wear protective gear while cleaning up, have a supply of fresh water and be wary of contaminated floodwaters.
The SES has started assessing the damage in affected areas, with at least 75 properties so far declared potentially uninhabitable.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s Justin Robinson said the situation across the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley should ease by Monday and river levels in Moree were quickly dropping.
But Mr Robinson warned that although the sun was out, people should still avoid flooded rivers and be careful this weekend.
“Having high rivers, a sunny weekend, children playing … is a pretty dangerous combination,” he said.
The SES said there had been 12,500 requests for help since last week and 1000 flood rescues.
About 500 SES volunteers remain in the field, supported by hundreds of soldiers who have made their way down from Queensland to help with the clean up.
Meanwhile the search for an elderly woman continues after police pulled her car from the swollen Barrington River on Thursday.