Lismore Preschool – major flooding and resilience

Lismore Preschool – major flooding and resilience

Early childhood environments are recognised for their agility and flexibility, but when services in the northern rivers region were hit by floods in late March, their resilience and responsiveness was taken to a new level.

Lismore Preschool director Alexis Hughes and her team experienced the major flood event first hand, which saw the majority of the town (and surrounding areas) of Lismore under metres of water and many services and community facilities destroyed.

Alexis said the preschool had been through many evacuations due to floods over the years, but the recent event was by far the most significant with the flood levels reaching 11.5 metres.

The town was inundated, with water reaching the eaves of the preschool building. Compounding the considerable damage was the fact that the water remained sitting at this level for close to 48 hours.

As a fast moving catastrophic event now etched in memories, the preschool team recall vividly seeing the warnings go from a low level alert to a major flood event within 3-4 hours.

"Safety of the children was of course our priority and we contacted families in the morning, most of whom collected their children before midday, even though there was no real sense of immediacy in the early stages.

"The SES alert progressed from predicting that the flood would come in at a metre and a half, to seeing footage of people canoeing around the pre-school the next day – it was all quite surreal," Alexis said.

"Staff and parent helpers worked until dark in pelting rain that evening in a desperate attempt to safely store what resources and furniture they could."

"We were so grateful to have volunteers from among our current and past families who could come in to help us with the clean-up. There was an incomprehensible amount of work to do," she said.

"The preschool had to be completely stripped back to the bare bones, losing walls, room furnishings, most of our furniture and larger resources.

"We were extremely lucky to have a storage shed above the water line, so with some quick action when the first flood warnings came, we were able to save some of our smaller resources, which was at least a small consolation," she said.

"But it was devastating for staff to see 20 years of furniture and equipment destroyed and watch it pile up on the kerb as we sorted through the damage. Most of our resources had been hard won through fundraising and grants, and it was heart breaking to see them lost. Our whole community, was suffering from the trauma of the event – it was a lot to work through emotionally as well as physically."

Demonstrating their ability to quickly bounce back, the service spent three days of constant cleaning, removing mud, silt and debris and stripping the entire interior. With the help of a band of tradesmen and staff working tirelessly throughout April, they were proudly one of the first services to reopen on May 1, acutely aware of the need to service the 110 families who relied on them for their educational programs each week.

"Several months on the preschool is looking better than ever, with final works being completed as this issue goes to print," Alexis added.

"We really appreciate the support of all our staff, families and the wider community, including  other early childhood services who have helped us get back on our feet in a variety of ways.

"There has been generous and sometimes unexpected support financially, physically and emotionally from a tremendously wide range of sources, individual and businesses."

The Department of Education is supporting Lismore Preschool under the Start Strong Sector Support Flood Impacted Services program. Through the program, the department has engaged Community Connections Solutions Australia (CCSA) and Community Early Learning Australia (CELA) to identify and coordinate potential emergency relief support.



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