Flooding leaves NSW caravan park residents mourning, unsure about futureSamantha Turnbull, Wednesday April 12, 2017 - 12:44 EST
More than 50 people are mourning the loss of their neighbour and their homes after a northern New South Wales caravan park was destroyed during recent flooding.
The on Saturday, April 1 after flooding receded enough for residents to access the Greenhills Caravan Park in South Murwillumbah, which was swallowed by water on the morning of Friday, March 31.
Police issued a statement saying they were investigating the death, and that a post-mortem examination was expected this week to determine the cause.
Park owner Graeme Bolton fears Mr Austen did not make it out of his van before the floods rose as high as its rooftop.
"He's one of these guys who wouldn't leave his van. He was frightened if he left here he mightn't be able to get back," Mr Bolton said.
"He was just one of those guys that said 'No way, I'm not leaving my van, you're not getting me out of here'."
Rescues from rooftops
Mr Bolton said about 100 people had been staying at the park on the Thursday before the flood came, and 50 of those were permanent residents.
He said about 20 had ignored evacuation orders.
"A lot of them were frightened if they left they would lose their home because that's all they've got," Mr Bolton said.
"The SES came in and went knocking letting everyone know, and then I went around a bit later and pulled up at each van and beeped the horn and sung out to them."
Nine residents had to seek shelter in Mr Bolton's two-storey home when their vans were inundated on Thursday night.
By 2am Friday, two residents were screaming for help from the roof of their cabin, and everyone in Mr Bolton's house had to be rescued by boat.
"We were trapped and a house nearby had a little dinghy in it and it floated out," Mr Bolton said.
"These blokes heard people yelling out for help so they got in the dinghy and used a shovel as their oar and rowed in and rescued them.
"They did a few trips back and forth and rescued all of us.
"It was pitch black. I don't know how they knew where to go to get us out of here â?? bloody terrifying it was."
Swimming for his life
Philip Duncan was sleeping in his bus, metres from the van where Mr Austen's body was found, when floodwater gushed around his bed.
"I woke to a gurgle. I looked up and saw one of my shoes floating past the end of the bed, and I thought 'I think I better get out of here real quick'," he said.
"I pushed one of the windows open and jumped into a whole lot of dirty, stinking water and then swam up to the road to get into the car.
"It was above my head. It would've been two-and-a-half metres high."
Mr Duncan's bus and all of his belongings were destroyed.
"It's one of those situations where you literally jump and run for your life or swim for your life or drive for your life," he said.
"No keys, no personal belongings, no credit cards, just the clothes that I had on and no shoes."
Fears for the future
Mr Bolton said all of the vans and cabins had been destroyed and he did not know if he would be able to re-open the park.
"We're not covered for floods, so I'm not going to have any money to get up and running again," Mr Bolton said.
"I'll have to get rid of all these caravans. That's going to cost a fortune."
He said some of the park's 50 permanent residents had been given emergency temporary accommodation in motels, while others were staying with friends, but he did not know what the long-term future would hold for them.
"All of those caravans, they're all destroyed, everything's gone," he said.
"They can't come back. They've got no power, no water."
© ABC 2017
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