A home isolated by floodwaters near Murwillumbah, in northern NSW. Picture: Nigel Hallett
A home isolated by floodwaters near Murwillumbah, in northern NSW. Picture: Nigel Hallett News Corp Australia

Two people dead after huge floods swamp northern NSW

AT LEAST two people are dead and thousands are homeless after the worst floods on record swamped northern NSW.

The tail-end of ex-Cyclone ­Debbie has left shattered lives and a multimillion-dollar trail of destruction across the Tweed-Lismore ­region, which was yesterday declared a natural disaster zone.

An estimated 20,000 people, some clinging to the roofs of their homes, were evacuated as flood ­sirens blared.

There were hundreds of rescues, including a man plucked to safety from a wall in Lismore after emergency service workers jumped from their boat into fast-flowing floodwaters to save him.

A woman's body was found by her family yesterday morning on a flooded property at Upper Burringbar, south of Murwillumbah.

That town was hit by the biggest flood since the record 1954 inundation after the Tweed River peaked at 6.2m. Chinderah, south of Tweed Heads, also suffered major flooding.

"It's the worst we've ever had - the devastation is unbelievable," Tweed deputy mayor Chris Cherry said. "All the businesses in Murwillumbah have had water through them and all of the small villages have been hit very hard."

NSW Police last night confirmed they had recovered another body - that of a 64-year-old woman - after a vehicle was swept off a causeway on a property west of Muswellbrook.

Tweed Shire Council general manager Troy Green said millions of dollars worth of infrastructure, including a water treatment plant, had been destroyed or damaged.

"It's been a bad flood, the worst one I've seen," he said.

"There's going to be a massive clean-up in the days and weeks ahead.''

Local Brent Simpson said floodwaters rose "very quickly" and the devastation was "absolutely horrific".

"There's a very sombre feeling in town - it's pretty emotional," he said.

Murwillumbah's CBD was spared the worst of the carnage, but the outer suburbs were devastated.

Two planes were swallowed by water on the local air strip, while the town's industrial estate and riverfront homes were also overwhelmed with water.

At the worst of the flood, some parts of town sat submerged below almost 2m of water.

The NSW State Emergency Service performed almost 400 rescues and responded to about 2000 calls for help at the height of the flood emergency after up to 740mm of rain soaked the region.

SES rescue boats were forced to evacuate people from the worst-­affected areas, while others chose to paddle on surfboards, kayaks or stand-up paddleboards through the murky streets.

Dozens of families spent Thursday night in evacuation centres at Murwillumbah and Kingscliff.

Murwillumbah was cut off by floodwaters, while the M1 at Tugun was also closed, causing traffic chaos.

Tweed police pleaded for sight­seers to stay off the roads, warning that flood-stricken residents trying to flee could be trapped.

Former Tweed mayor Max Boyd, 83, who was in Murwillumbah for the 1954 flood, said the devastation appeared so much worse this time.

He said he feared for the area's multimillion-dollar sugar cane crop.

Central Lismore's streets resembled canals as hundreds of homes, schools, shops and sporting fields were swamped by a brown torrent water from the overflowing Wilsons River that may take several days to subside.

At the worst of the flood, some parts of town sat submerged below almost 2m of water.

News Corp Australia

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