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Rahima’s house burnt down in the Lismore floods — she’s seen an opportunity

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Woman in black singlet, bearing an arm tattoo with arms folded, standing in front of damaged house and pile of rubbish
Rahima Jackson in front of her house which burnt down in the middle of the flood.(ABC North Coast: Emma Rennie)

Rahima Jackson never thought she’d have to worry about her house catching fire in the middle of record-breaking floods.

Like so many other Lismore residents, Ms Jackson was on her roof, escaping rising floodwaters, in the early hours of Monday morning last week.

That was when she noticed white smoke pouring from her roof.

“At first I didn’t really pay attention to it, because it just didn’t really seem like the kind of thing you needed to pay attention to in the middle of a storm, in the middle of a flood,” she said.

aerial view of a house on fire, surrounded by brown flood waters
Rahima Jackson’s house on fire at the height of the floods. (Supplied: Jennifer Steel)

She called emergency services but a neighbour with a boat reached her first and ferried her to safer ground.

Between flood and the fire, Ms Jackson’s house was left uninhabitable, with missing walls and sections of roof caved in.

She has no idea how the fire started.

raised home damaged by fire, debris from the wreckage on the ground in front
The house is uninhabitable after being damaged by both floods and fire.(ABC North Coast: Emma Rennie)

For now, she’s staying with friends but wants to return to her South Lismore home to rebuild.

But she is calling on both state and federal governments to take a longer-term, bigger-picture look at the future of the city that’s been ravaged by its worst floods on record. 

The state government’s housing package includes up to 16 weeks of rental assistance for people who can’t return home.

Aerial picture of a line of motorhomes driving along a freeway.
A convoy of motorhomes is on its way to the Northern Rivers. (ABC News.)

A convoy of motor homes will make its way to the region from Sydney, with the first 20 vehicles from a 120-vehicle fleet hitting the road this morning.

Recreation camps across the region will also be used to accommodate up to 270 people.

Ms Jackson said her preference would one of the temporary “pod dwellings” which allow people to stay on their land while rebuilding.

“You can’t help but feel like you’re imposing on the people that want to offer you help, and it would just give a bit of independence back,” she said.

On his visit to Lismore this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to unlock more of the $4.8 billion Emergency Response Fund for flood protection or mitigation work.

Woman in black singlet with back to camera, stands in front of a raised house destroyed by fire.
Rahima Jackson surveys the damage to her home. (ABC North Coast: Emma Rennie)

Ms Jackson said flood mitigation won’t be enough to protect Lismore.

“I don’t know what amount of flood mitigation could have helped us. I think they need a different approach, I think it’s going to be more about flood-proofing than mitigation,” she said.

“I’ve been looking at houses they build in the Netherlands that float and they’re attached to a mooring pole.

“Or building structures that are very high up on steel posts, or you could also have removable business spaces. Stuff that’s going to survive if an event like this ever happens again.

“If they were able to come up with a building plan that was highly flood-proof, they’d be able to offer a template through the council.”

She called on the government to subsidise the costs of rebuilding homes and businesses.

“I want to rebuild where I am, I’m not interested in moving, so I guess I’m interested to see how they do that, because it needs to be flood-proof,” she said.

“We don’t need to go through this ever again.”

Aerial shot of Lismore showing houses underwater and severe floods.
The floods will exacerbate a housing shortage in the Lismore area. (ABC News: Ruby Cornish)

Housing and community advocacy service, Social Futures, said even before the flood, there was a shortage of social housing in the area.

Social Futures CEO Tony Davies said the government’s housing package was welcome but there needed to be more focus on providing long-term housing and accommodation.

“As well as that immediate short-term commitment of 16 weeks rental support, we do need to be thinking about the medium term, how do we support people after that?” he said.

“So we need now this commitment to long-term social housing being built.”

He expects demand for property in the region will fall for a time but will quickly return.

“Visually things do get back to normal fairly fast but the underlying social consequences of events like this will be with us and the other issues, the intractable housing issues, are still in place,” he said.

A man in an army uniform piles up rubbish on the street.
The ADF says it now has 2,500 personnel helping with the clean-up in northern NSW. (AAP: Jason O’Brien)

The Australian Defence Force said it now has 2,500 people on the ground in northern NSW, helping with the recovery.

That number will double in the next few days.

The commander in charge of the ADF response in NSW, Brigadier Robert Lording, said his forces had already removed 300 tonnes of rubbish.

“We need to get out, clear the debris from the roads, make sure that we can get into those communities, get the essential services in, and allow communities to get back in safely,” he said.

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