Armidale Regional Council is now leading multiple agencies during the next phase of a massive clean-up after hail and a tornado hit the northern NSW town on October 14, leaving streets in ruins, flipping cars, slicing through power lines, trashing scores of homes. and condemning 11 of them to demolition.
"We're out of the response phase now and well and truly into the recovery phase," Armidale Regional general manager James Roncon told the Armidale Express.
Agencies involved in recovery planning include Resilience NSW, State Emergency Services, Rural Fire Service, Family and Community Services, NSW Health Local Land Services, Department of Regional NSW Health, Environmental Protection Agency, University of New England and the police.
Mr Roncon chaired an initial inter-agency webinar meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the next phase now that Armidale has access to disaster assistance through the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA).
Announcing the funding on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England Barnaby Joyce passed on his support and concern to residents and said the tornado caused significant damage to residents, businesses, and infrastructure in the Armidale area.
"The disaster assistance provides really practical assistance that will help Armidale Regional Council, as well as primary producers, small businesses, and charities," Mr Joyce said.
"Individuals will also receive support to get back on their feet, including grants to replace essential household contents or repair structural damage to homes."
Mr Roncon said he wanted to extend his 'sincere thanks' to the state and federal governments for the emergency funding.
"We thank them for the expeditious way they got that funding approval over the line," he said.
"Services such as Resilience NSW, the SES, and police have all been exceptional in terms of their response and collaboration with the council, but the emergency funding is essential."
Mr Roncon was out in the field from Friday inspecting both the damage and the initial response efforts.
"As you drive out, you see how vast the damage was, but what I really found impressive between Friday and Sunday was the work our teams were able to do to clean up and make the areas safe.
"On Sunday, you could tell something had happened, but it was nowhere near as bad as it looked on Friday. Essential Energy also worked very quickly to bring power back up."
The collegiate effort was fantastic, according to Mr Roncon, and showed how people could band together in a crisis very quickly.
"And you learn lots of stuff as well and work out where your shortcomings are in your continuity plans," he said. "So it is also a good opportunity to tweak those for the future."
Mr Roncon also said he was amazed how up-beat people were given the circumstances.
"I think they just realised it was a freak storm, and they appreciated the work by all the agencies involved," he said.
"People were remarkably upbeat, and I think just happy nobody was injured and optimistic about the support they were getting.
"It was very heartwarming."
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Neighbours helping neighbours also extended to neighbouring councils, with Glen Innes Severn reaching out to Armidale Regional Council immediately.
"As soon as stuff happened here, Glen Innes put their hand up to provide support," Mr Roncon said.
"The general manager and his team were fantastic, and we were able to utilise some resources through them as well."
As the clean-up continues, anyone who needs debris from the storm removed from their verge should call Armidale Council.
"The SES usually provides the stuff that happens on a property, and then our role is to clean stuff up that people put out onto the front nature strips," Mr Roncon said.
"If it is an older person who cannot move it, we can help - if they give us a call and explain that, then we'll work with them to assist. We'll take it on a case by case basis."
Assistance available under the DRFA may include help for eligible people whose homes or belongings have been damaged (eligibility criteria apply); support for affected local councils to help with the costs of cleaning up and restoring damaged essential public assets; concessional interest rate loans for small businesses, primary producers and non-profit organisations; freight subsidies for primary producers, and grants to eligible non-profit organisations.
For information on personal hardship and stress assistance, contact Service NSW on 13 77 88.
To apply for a concessional loan or grant, contact the NSW Rural Assistance Authority on 1800 678 593 or visit www.raa.nsw.gov.au