No quick recovery after River Murray flood and mud

A South Australian town hit hard by River Murray flooding is slowly rebuilding, but the long months are taking a toll on a local caravan park manager as she deals with the aftermath of last year’s destruction.

Dec 01, 2023, updated Dec 01, 2023
Blanchetown Caravan Park during the flood (left) and the clean up continues this week. Photos: Belinda Willis/InDaily

Blanchetown Caravan Park during the flood (left) and the clean up continues this week. Photos: Belinda Willis/InDaily

Cassie is worn down. First there was the nervous wait as floodwaters rose alongside Blanchetown Caravan Park at the small community of Paisley, starting in November last year.

Then on Sunday, December 10, water surged over embankments into the site, its force lifting the remaining permanent cabins unable to be shifted off the ground, tossing a fridge hundreds of metres, and attracting a storm of media coverage.

Cassie, who did not want to share her surname for personal reasons, and her two sons were already living in one of five cabins moved to higher ground near the local Lutheran church, but the impact of seeing the devastation to their former home and business was heartbreaking.

Now the stress – of having no insurance, of starting work on rebuilding the park purchased with her partner in 2018, of living in a cabin for months and months, and selling off cars and other personal items to fund construction – is taking its toll.

There was also the death of a neighbour earlier this year to deal with: Cassie says the elderly Paisley resident was forced out of his home by floodwaters and had been living in one of the cabins alongside her family.

“We’ve lost him and we’ve lost our business for now,” Cassie says.

“We lost the amenities block, laundry block, shop, office, in-ground pool, jumping pillow. It’s still tough times, it’s still scary, people forget we are still paying thousands of dollars a month for the mortgage on the park and interest rates keep going up.”

River Murray floods

Flooding at Blanchetown Caravan Park last year. Photo: Belinda Willis/InDaily

It was not until August this year – six months after the floods – that Cassie and her management team could re-enter the park and begin cleaning up.

A local electrician “and saviour” has now started installing new underground power and a welcome government grant is helping to pay for a new amenities block, but it’s unlikely the park will be ready to reopen until next year.

All around Paisley and nearby Blanchetown, rebuilding continues. New two-storey buildings are appearing on the waterfront while existing structures are being extensively cleaned and refurbished.

River Murray

A shack destroyed by River Murray flooding at Blanchetown. Photo: Belinda Willis

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Along the riverfront at Blanchetown, piles of rubbish wait to be picked up, and dotted among the newer homes are those waiting to be demolished – they sit crumbling, moulding and abandoned.

Community Recovery Coordinator Alex Zimmerman says the rebuilding process is long and complex, hampered by a shortage of tradies, difficult travel times for workers and a shortage in materials.

Across the state 150 flood impacted homes have been demolished for free under a state government scheme, but there are hundreds more on the waiting list.

While Loxton Waikerie District Council chief executive officer David Beaton said the pain many were experiencing at Paisley in particular was being recognised with ongoing rate relief.

Cassie is taking each day as it come, but misses the people visiting her park and is haunted by that day when the sudden, powerful torrent of River Murray water so suddenly engulfed her business.

“You can say you’re tough but don’t doubt for a second that I don’t sit in that cabin and cry, when you have worked so hard to improve the park and all of that is gone … it is so hard, now we think to ourselves ‘how are we going to replace it?’” Cassie says.

“But we are very, very thankful that we’ve been able to secure a grant, I’ve got a roof over my head, I’m not living in a tent, it’s hard but I’m just grateful that we are here, things could be so much worse.”

River Murray

A riverfront house destroyed by flood waters, alongside another in Blanchetown that has been rebuilt. Photo: Belinda Willis/InDaily

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