Thousands of people remain under evacuation orders as floodwaters begin to recede in some parts of NSW – and the rain band that brought the danger shifts further south.
The NSW SES said on Thursday afternoon that residents in low-lying areas of Mullumbimby, Condong, Tumbulgum and low-lying parts of Kyogle could return home.
Meanwhile in Lismore, the Wilsons River was “slowly receding”, falling below the towns levee after breaching it for the second time in less than a month on Thursday.
In Byron Bay, which was hit by unexpected flash-flooding at the end of a summer of relentless rain, frustrated business were anxious to reopen their doors.
The back rooms of Main Street Burger Bar were inundated on Wednesday. But co-owner Jack Tupper said he would try to reopen the business on Thursday night.
The flood came after days of torrential rain, and Mr Tupper said he had the feeling the town would go under, despite Byron having no history of inundation.
“This summer, it’s just been raining constantly, like constantly,” he said.
“When it does rain, it’s so intense.
“It’s frustrating because we own the business. It’s hard, all the days that we are shut, we’re still paying rent.
“All the damage and all the property and stuff, you’re never really sure what you covered for.
“We’re going to try and seat people because there’s not many venues that are going to be open, and there’s a lot of people in town,” Mr Tupper said.
To the south-west in Lismore, flood levels were continuing to fall after the Wilsons River peaked at 11.4 metres, below the predicted record height of 12 metres.
“That’s good news for the community this morning,” NSW Flood Recovery Minister Steph Cooke said on Thursday.
“However, we are regrouping as we look at recovery efforts as the water starts to recede.
“The weather system is making its way down the east coast, and we will see other communities impacted as it moves south over the next couple of days.”
Some 30,000 people in NSW remained affected by evacuation orders issued by the SES, and 523 people were being housed at 20 evacuation centres still in operation, Ms Cooke said.
“The numbers are much less than what they were in the event of one month ago,” she said.
Meanwhile, the search continues for missing aged-care nurse Anita Brakel, whose car became trapped in floodwaters in Monaltrie, south of Lismore.
No trace of Ms Brakel or her car has been found since she disappeared on Tuesday about 10pm.
“The rain has eased, but there is a lot of water to move through the rivers, catchments and streams, particularly in the Northern Rivers and also the mid-north coast,” Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Dean Narramore said.
There is still major flooding along the Wilsons, Richmond, Clarence, and Orara rivers, while moderate flooding continues on the Hastings, Nambucca and further south along the Macleay, Bellinger and Kalang rivers.
There is also major flooding at Coraki, Woodburn and Grafton, while Hastings and Nambucca were experiencing moderate flooding.
A severe wind and damaging surf warning is in place from Kempsey on the mid-north coast through to the Victorian border.
NSW SES Acting Commissioner Daniel Austin defended the decision by emergency services to lift an evacuation order in Lismore on Tuesday before reinstating it early on Wednesday.
He said the initial evacuation order was for flooding of the Wilsons River at Lismore and the likely overtopping of the flood levee, which did not eventuate.
“As a result, that risk [was] no longer present [and] we decided in consultation with a number of people, including people locally, to remove the evacuation order and allow people to return to get on with the recovery effort,” he said.
Mr Austin said it took until Wednesday for an exceptional level of new rainfall, not previously predicted, for the levee to overtop.
“We do not have the joy of hindsight,” he said.