'How much can a community bear?': This NSW town survived bushfires, only to face floods

Residents in Lake Conjola on the NSW south coast are reeling from another major weather event, six weeks after surviving the bushfires. Source: SBS News/Lucy Murray

Torrential rain conditions in New South Wales saw south coast homes inundated by floodwater after Lake Conjola began overflowing.

Residents in low-lying communities on the NSW south coast are now facing the prospect of recovery from two disasters: the bushfires that tore through the area six weeks ago, and now flooding brought on by days of heavy rain.

After days of near-constant rainfall, Shoalhaven City Council opened Lake Conjola to the sea at 11:30am on Monday - but it was too late to save some properties.

Resident Angela Galway is trying to remain positive but said the double blow of making it through the fires - only to have to contend with flooding - was a struggle. 


"It is upsetting. I feel like we survived the fires," Ms Galway told SBS News.

"We were one of the lucky ones, but now the water has got us."

Wading through the waters to survey the damage, she said flooding has destroyed furniture and possessions her family had in the house and garage. 

Angela and Grant Galway say the extent of the flood damage to their property has been upsetting.
Angela and Grant Galway say the extent of the flood damage to their property has been upsetting.
SBS News/Lucy Murray

Angry residents accused the Shoalhaven City Council of not doing more to reduce the flood risk last week, when the weather forecast initially emerged.

The council's mayor, Amanda Findley, promised she understands that emotions are raw, but stressed the council did what it could, considering the area was still in bushfire recovery mode.

"This is a really awful situation for Lake Conjola. We've just been through fires, the recovery of that and now this," she said.

"Just how much can a community bear?"

"And this community is really angry, frustrated and all of those emotions that go with rolling natural disasters."

On Monday, locals helped each other salvage any possessions they could, with fridges and other items floating away in the floodwaters. 

Flood damage at the caravan park at Lake Conjola.
Flood damage at the caravan park at Lake Conjola.
SBS News/Lucy Murray

"We didn't have time to have a holiday because we were too busy worrying about everything," 11-year-old Mia Davis, who had been staying a caravan park that ended up submerged in floodwaters, said.

"Nan comes in running saying: 'There's a flood. there's a flood.'

"We quickly came down. It was covering the caravans up to the doors.

"Then a few hours later it just kept coming up and up. Water kept coming and coming."

The flood threat has receded after the lake was opened with an excavator on Monday morning.
The flood threat has receded after the lake was opened with an excavator on Monday morning.
SBS News/Lucy Murray

She said residents had wanted the rain after the destruction from the fires, which damaged a number of properties. 

"The fires were a bit more devastating because a lot of houses were burnt down. But the rain is good, but we don't need this much rain."

Rodney Feltham from the NSW State Emergency Service's Ulladulla unit said the community has banded together and the camaraderie after the bushfires was still very much alive. 

"The spirits of people here are very high," he said.

From fires to floods at Conjola Park in NSW.
From fires to floods at Conjola Park in NSW.
SBS News/Lucy Murray

"Yes, they have had fires and they have had floods but they are pitching in together to get across all those hurdles and help one another in any way they can."

Recovery effort ramped up

Mayor Findley said her focus was on ramping up the recovery effort, in the wake of both the bushfires and floods. 

"We just need to maintain optimism around the good things that have happened. And work towards rebuilding our future," she said.

"Once the floodwaters have receded then we'll be able to work out what needs to be done here, and we'll get straight onto the job."

Flood damage in Lake Conjola.
Flood damage in Lake Conjola.
SBS News/Lucy Murray

The flooding on the east coast is the sixth catastrophe declared in five months after a summer of raging bushfires and storms.

About 50 of the 127 fires burning across NSW late on Monday were uncontained.

None were above advice level.

Ten people have died battling or trying to escape bushfires since 30 December in the state.

Some 4.8 million hectares - equal to the metro areas of the five mainland state capitals - have been burnt in NSW this season, taking with it at least 1466 homes, 100 facilities and 2339 outbuildings such as sheds.

Meanwhile, residents celebrated the end of a fire that has been burning for 74 days.

The Currowan Fire destroyed cross 499,621 hectares, damaging 312 homes on the NSW south coast.

Almost a dozen fire trucks took a lap of honour at the Nowra Showground on Saturday night.

"Officially extinguished!," Shoalhaven City Council posted on its Facebook page on Saturday night.

"We want to thank all emergency services and for their hard work and putting their lives on the line to help our community."

Additional reporting: AAP

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