Australia

Tathra residents blame poor phone reception for missed evacuation warning

Residents of the fire-ravaged New South Wales township of Tathra claim they only received a warning message about last Sunday’s fire when they were 30 minutes out of town.

Residents of the fire-ravaged New South Wales township of Tathra have cited poor mobile phone reception as a possible reason for why they only received a warning message about Sunday’s fire when they were already 30 minutes out of town.

Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell and Deb Nave said they only received an evacuation message on Sunday after already fleeing the fire that would destroy their home.  

The couple’s house was one of at least 69 homes destroyed in the blaze that tore through the New South Wales township located on the south-east coast.

Ms Mitchell and Ms Nave said the evacuation message came through when they were half an hour out of town.

“We’ve been asking for reception to be improved ever since we moved here which was 2010, it’s appalling,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Tathra is just so poor for reception, we didn’t get reception in the house even when we had it."

Ms Mitchell said they have made numerous complaints to Telstra about the lack of reception in the area.

“No one believes us when we call (to complain) because it is hard to believe people don’t have reception in our modern day world,” Ms Mitchell said.

Emotional Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell (right) and Deb Nave (left) outside the burnt out remains of their Wildlife Drive home in Tathra.
Emotional Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell (right) and Deb Nave (left) outside the burnt out remains of their Wildlife Drive home in Tathra.
AAP

Authorities have backed the manner in which emergency warnings were delivered to Tathra residents in the moments before their NSW town was hit by a raging bushfire on the weekend.

It's not yet known how many residents didn't receive an SMS warning.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian insists authorities did all they could to alert residents. Messages were delivered via mobiles and also landline phone calls.

However, Bega deputy mayor Liz Seckhold who lives in Tathra said flames were already visible by the time the emergency text message was sent on Sunday afternoon.

Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell (right) and Deb Nave (left) wander through the burnt out remains of their Wildlife Drive home in Tathra.
Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell (right) and Deb Nave (left) wander through the burnt out remains of their Wildlife Drive home in Tathra.
AAP

Couple planned to sell Tathra house

Ms Mitchell and Ms Nave already had an agreed buyer to sell their three-bedroom Tathra home before the house was burned to the ground in the fire.

They bought a new house last Wednesday and had planned to sell their Tathra home to finance their new bigger four-bedroom purchase to accommodate their young family.

The couple has two children, 7-year old Malakai and 4-year old Torren.

Ms Mitchell said the fire had devastated there plans to move into the new home in the nearby New South Wales town of Kalaru.

“We exchanged with our house in Kalaru on Wednesday and now we have no house to sell,” Ms Mitchell said.

The Tathra resident said the couple saved what they could from the fire.

“I said we’ve got to get in the car, go grab what you can. I’d already got the computer with the hard drive with the baby photos on it and then Deb just said grab two toys and a book. We’ve got to get in the car.”

Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell and Deb Nave wonder through the burnt out remains of their Wildlife Drive home in Tathra.
Tathra residents Ingrid Mitchell and Deb Nave wonder through the burnt out remains of their Wildlife Drive home in Tathra.
AAP

Hundreds displaced

Ms Mitchell said the lack of phone reception was a real safety concern for the couple and their family as they escaped the fire that destroyed their house.

“I could see it was coming we had no information, there was no one driving past, we had no texts but the power had gone out,” Ms Mitchell said.

Her partner Ms Nave said the community had rallied around each other to support people through the crisis.

“Everyone has just been incredible."



Residents were taken on a bus tour of the fire-ravaged NSW township with many getting the first glimpse of the charred remains of their home on Tuesday. 

Hundreds have evacuated Tathra to a pop-up recovery centre in nearby Bega, under the care of charities and volunteers.

Fire crews have since confirmed 69 houses and 30 caravans or cabins were destroyed in the bushfires. A further 39 houses were damaged with nearly 400 saved.

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