DEVASTATED local business owners say they may never recover from the damage caused by the Lismore flood and some will have to close for good, as the harrowing details of the last moments of three victims who lost their lives came to light.
With the damage bill estimated to run into the millions, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will today tour the area to witness first-hand the devastation.
"The true magnitude of the damage will start to be revealed today," the premier told radio station 2GB en route to the region this morning.
Hundreds of volunteers helped with the clean-up of the city centre, but some owners remained furious they were given only one hour's notice before the levee was breached, flooding the town and destroying their stock.
Five people died in the NSW and Queensland floods.
Marc Austin, 45, refused to leave his South Murwillumbah caravan and was found dead inside it on Saturday.
Mr Austin's van was swept off its base by the force of the water, which hit 2m in the Greenhills Caravan Park.
His friend Chris said he swam from his van in swirling floodwaters past Mr Austin's van. "I saw him and yelled to get out. He wouldn't come, he just closed his blind and continued drinking," he said.
Jamie Bolton, 40, a friend of Mr Austin's, said they had all been given a warning to evacuate but ignored the advice, underestimating the horror they would encounter.
Mr Bolton said he had been swept away himself and clung to a power pole for two hours before being rescued by locals in a boat. He said Mr Austin had lost a son last December.
"He was drinking on Thursday night. He didn't think it was going to be this bad, none of us did, but the water came up to the tops of the vans. When the water receded he just looked like he was asleep on his bed."
About the same time, three people were trying to get back to their home in Upper Burringbar when they were swept into a flooded causeway. A 36-year-old woman perished.
Harry and Margaret Moult were trying to keep the water out of their house when they were alerted to the plight of their neighbours.
"They were trying to get back home through the flood in the night. There were two girls and a man and they slipped into the flooded causeway," Mrs Moult said.
Mr Moult found a girl clinging to a tree. Her friend Gitana Schiphoni, 36, had been washed away.
"Harry encouraged the girl to get up higher and she clung on for half an hour before Gitana's brother came to help her," Ms Moult said. Gitana's body was found the next morning.
Justin Roser, the 18-year-old son of Matthew Roser, who died of a heart attack about 2am on Friday morning at his South Murwillumbah home, tried to save his dad.
Mr Roser, 46, was tending to floodwaters gushing into his home when he felt like he was having a panic attack.
In the home at the time were Justin, his sister Jade, 21 and her boyfriend Ryleigh Bennet.
"Dad told Jade that he was having a panic attack. He said to Jade that he didn't feel good, and went to the toilet to be sick, and after he did that, he stood up and passed out," Justin said.
Mr Bennet, 29, began CPR while Justin called the SES and ambulance for help, but flood waters held the rescue up for 20 minutes.
"They tried to get there as fast as they could, but the water was just so powerful they had to take the extra precautions," Justin said.
Lismore mayor Isaac Smith said many businesses had been unable to afford the cost of flood insurance of up to $50,000 a year in the notorious flood-prone town and had lost everything.
"Some of them are talking about not opening again. Two weeks without any income is a long time for a small business," Mr Smith said.
He said the town was hoping for federal and state help, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Premier Gladys Berekijlian due to visit today.
Blooms the Chemist owner Elaine Unsworth said she had just one hour's warning but despite the damage she would reopen: "This is my life. I'm going to open again but it's going to be a lengthy process."
Nurse Christine Hoskins, 56, lost her furniture but managed to save her two chooks.
"Luckily they are a bit clucky and stayed in their nest in the bathroom the whole time," she said.
At Murwillumbah, the community has rallied round a little girl whose 10th birthday presents were washed away in the flood.
Hannah Hopkinson's family has been touched by the kindness of strangers who brought round armfuls of toys. "The community spirit is amazing - total strangers were coming in," Hannah's father Graham said.
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