Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg and his wife Julianne lost their home and two businesses in devastating floods that ravaged the Northern Rivers region in February.
The property of the late wife of Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow was all damaged or destroyed.
And the Lismore MP’s husband, Janelle Saffin, clung to a veranda post for hours in neck-deep water before being rescued.
Here are their stories.
The mayor learns the fate of the house on TV
Steve Krieg painstakingly rebuilt his family home and two businesses after losing everything in the February and March floods that ravaged Lismore.
Disaster struck just two months after Cr Krieg was elected mayor of the town, leaving him – and thousands of others – homeless.
He says leading the community while simultaneously trying to support his own family has been crippling at times.
“If I was to be totally honest, I probably didn’t cope as well as I would have liked because at the beginning you live on adrenaline,” says Cr Krieg.
The mayor was thrust into the international media spotlight, becoming the face of the Lismore disaster.
He only learned of the extent of the damage to his home during a live television interview.
“I gave a live thumbs up to a show and they had a cameraman in a boat cruising down Keen Street, and I remember thinking, ‘Don’t take the camera away, my business and my house is just 100 yards,'” he said.
Knowing the true depth of the community’s trauma, the mayor tried to keep Lismore in the media spotlight so no one would forget the huge task of rebuilding ahead.
But it was only recently that the reality of his situation dawned on him, after witnessing the reopening of another local business.
“I was a boring mess,” says Cr Krieg.
“I had not spent a single day in my own house and in my own business.
“I felt like an absolute failure as a husband and as a father that we are here – at that point, four and a half months later – and I had made no effort personally to get my family back to herself at home and get my staff back to work in our business.”
“I thought my husband was dead”
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin has struggled with flooding since arriving in the area 55 years ago.
His two-story house is situated high up on the banks of the Wilson River, just five minutes from Lismore.
Until this year, this fact never worried her.
But in the early hours of February 28, it became clear that the disaster engulfing the city was no ordinary flood.
Ms Saffin was forced to swim for her life in raging floodwaters.
Not far from there, her husband, Dr. Jim Gallagher, was at home, in an even more serious situation.
He was trapped with the couple’s beloved dog, as water quickly rose to the roof of their home.
“It just kept happening, it was raging,” says Dr. Gallagher.
Hussy Hicks band member Julz Parker risked his life to save Dr Gallagher, holding him to a pole for hours until help arrived.
Mrs. Saffin feared the worst.
“I thought Jim was dead because I had the last call with him and I also had a call with Julz next door, so I thought he would be dead,” she says.
But with so many people in the same situation, she was forced to focus on helping the community.
“I couldn’t think of me, I couldn’t think of Jim, I couldn’t think of here or anything, I just thought I had a responsibility to act for the community, so I’m just shifted into high gear,” she said. said.
Miraculously, a boat appeared and rescued Dr. Gallagher.
But he had to leave their beloved pet Zara behind, knowing she was going to drown.
The weight of leadership weighs heavy
What makes Robert Mustow’s journey even tougher is that 2022 isn’t the first time he’s had to lead his community through tough times.
But this is the first time he has been personally affected.
The Richmond Valley region has suffered eight declarations of natural disaster in the past three years.
During the February floods, Cr Mustow lost his home and the house he was renovating for his retirement.
“It’s not just the house, it’s all your possessions that you have acquired over the years, such as the belongings of my mother, friends and my wife, who died at the age of 39,” says -he.
Cr Mustow says he doesn’t like to talk too much about his personal situation because so many people have to rebuild their lives too.
“I know the frustrations that our community is feeling because I’ve been on the journey with them, and I’ve been frustrated and angry at times like them and I understand,” he says.
Cr Mustow says it’s important for a community to have a strong leader during dark times, and he uses that sense of responsibility to carry on.
“It’s your job as mayor and you’re there to represent your community and do your best for it,” he says.