News National As the army joins the flood clean-up, locals wonder why help took so long
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As the army joins the flood clean-up, locals wonder why help took so long

clean-up floods
The army has arrived to clean up after the floods – days after the community stepped up to the challenge themselves. Photo: AAP
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Lismore and other flood-affected communities have stepped up to manage their own clean-up, with many accusing the army of not doing enough to help people who have lost everything.

On Sunrise, Davie Koch (‘Kochie’) latched on to community anger by accusing Defence Minister Peter Dutton of organising too little, too late.

“God help us. If we were going to war, we wouldn’t stand a chance if it took this long to get organised,” Kochie said on Tuesday morning.

“What’s going on? Why aren’t they there quicker?”

Mr Dutton said the Australian Defence Force had rescued 113 people “who otherwise would’ve drowned” and had been going into remote communities to get key infrastructure back up and running.

Although there were only 760 pairs of boots on the ground at the time of the Tuesday morning interview, Mr Dutton pledged 5000 personnel in the coming days.

“I’m just not going to cop criticism of the ADF,” Mr Dutton said.

In the meantime, the bulk of the rescues were done by locals in tinnies and aid was distributed by local community groups – some of which were affected by the floods themselves.

“Residents are having to do so much themselves and they shouldn’t be putting their own lives in danger to do that when we have authorities that can do it for them,” Kochie said.

“Community spirit only goes so far. They need help. They need attention.”

The floods have claimed 21 lives and hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by evacuation orders.

The community steps up

Unverified photos and videos have been circulating online accusing the ADF of parachuting in for a photo opportunity.

One post purports to show soldiers unloading debris that had already been packed into a trailer, while another photo shows a soldier posing for a professional photo shoot.

Wollongbar uni student Christa Morrow has been helping with the clean-up in Lismore.
Wollongbar uni student Christa Morrow has been helping with the clean-up in Lismore. Photo: Supplied

Residents in flood-affected areas told The New Daily they saw soldiers helping clean up around Lismore, Ballina, Murwillumbah and beyond.

But this was only after locals had conducted the bulk of the rescues and kicked off the clean-up effort themselves.

Many residents are turning to Facebook groups to ask for help from their neighbours.

Christa Morrow, a 24-year-old uni student from Wollongbar, volunteered a week of her time to co-ordinate civilian boat rescues in nearby Lismore, and to clean up houses in the days that followed.

“Honestly, I think the defence force was well intentioned but our community was quicker,” she told The New Daily.

“I don’t think those in charge really understood how urgent and devastating it was.”

Christa Morrow and other uni students were among the local volunteers who cleaned up houses before the defence force arrived.
Christa Morrow and other uni students were among the locals who cleaned up houses before the defence force arrived. Photo: Supplied

One Lismore teacher, who declined to be named due to contractual agreements, said she saw the army going door to door cleaning up debris on the streets of Lismore.

“Last week, they also offered assistance to a friend as he was cleaning his restaurant in the CBD, asking what he needed help with,” she said.

But the teacher also said that, among her circles, nobody had been rescued by the army.

“Every single person was saved by a civilian in a boat,” she said.

The army has arrived to clean up after the floods – days after the community stepped up to the challenge themselves.
Army personnel used their equipment to clean up debris in Lismore on Tuesday. This photo was taken by the Australian Defence Force. Photo: AAP

Mr Dutton said the army rescued more than 100 people by helicopter, but this figure pales in comparison to the number of rescues conducted by ordinary civilians as well as by state emergency service (SES) volunteers.

So far, SES volunteers in New South Wales have made 1957 rescues.

In Queensland, where rescues are typically made by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services rather than the state’s SES, workers have made 654 rescues.

Brisbane-based Senator Murray Watt – who is also Labor’s spokesperson for disaster and emergency management – travelled south of the border to Lismore to help with the recovery.

“I want to pay tribute to the army personnel here, but there’s just not enough of them,” he said on Tuesday.

Senator Murray Watt called on Scott Morrison to dedicate more resources to the clean-up effort.

“We know he didn’t hold a hose. He can at least hold a phone. He can get resources here and help people today,” Senator Watt said.

A spokesperson for the ADF pointed to the force’s own blog and declined to comment further.