Flood tragedy sparks crucial changes
Tweed Shire Council is set to undergo a major overhaul in flood procedure in the wake of a coronial inquest into the deaths of a mother and children.
Stephanie Jane King and her children Ella-Jane Kabealo and Jacob Matthew Kabealo tragically drowned on April 3, 2017 when their van lost control on a road which should have been closed after unprecedented flooding.
Acting State Coroner Magistrate Teresa O'Sullivan highlighted shortcomings in the council's staffing levels and resources during the recent inquest into the deaths of the three beloved Bilambil Heights residents.
"It appears that the Council was so overwhelmed by the flood in March/April, 2017, that they did not have the resources to effect road closures in accordance with the procedure in place at the time," Coroner O'Sullivan said in her findings.
This coming Thursday it is expected councillors will vote to implement five recommendations.
That includes studying roads to identify hazards during and after floods plus considering strategies to mitigate risk.
The council would update its Standard Operating Procedures to allow works officers to look for risks arising from mud and silt and improve its Road Spotters Program by boosting the number of volunteers living near critical flooding locations.
An instructions document would also be provided to assist volunteers.
The council will also consider whether to install warning signs on Dulguigan Rd, alerting of mud and silt after floods, and how to inform the community roads should be considered closed when an "obvious hazard makes it unsafe or impassable".
The council has already taken action, including installing 220 metres of guardrail along the riverside of Dulguigan Rd, encompassing the crash site.
Its volunteer "road spotters" contact list has been updated, staff have been better trained at updating road closure information, the council has launched an emergency dashboard and its Communications and Customer Experience Unit has new roles to help with road closure notifications.
Ms King was driving down Dulguigan Road, North Tumbulgum when her vehicle lost traction because of mud and silt left by flood waters.
The van slid into the swollen Tweed River.
One of the three children in the car, Chloe Kabealo, managed to escape and she bravely took off to raise the alarm.
But Ms King, 43, Ella-Jane, 11 and Jacob, 7, drowned in the murky water, leaving behind Chloe and the father of the family, Matt Kabealo.
It was revealed during the inquest that a woman driving along Dulguigan Rd about 30 minutes before Ms King hit a patch of mud and "came perilously close" to crashing into the river.
Coroner O'Sullivan said there was "no doubt" the responsibility for closing the road fell to the council, but it was never closed "in spite of the fact that it was impassable".
The council's general manager Troy Green extended his sympathies to the King and Kabealo families and their friends after May's inquest.