Karey Patterson vividly recalls wondering how long he would be able to keep his daughter’s head above water as floods devastated Australia’s east coast in February and floodwaters engulfed his home.
“It was like in a disaster movie, but I was in it,” he told AFP, standing in the gutted carcass of his house in Lismore.
After the worst floods in its history, the city has seen a rush of journalists, politicians, including the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition, and promises of aid.
Three months later, the tide has ebbed and national attention with it.
In one of the richest countries in the world, 1,500 people still live in emergency accommodation. But, on the eve of the legislative elections on Saturday, their difficulties are barely mentioned in the campaign.
The statistics also ignore the many residents who have found refuge with friends, settled in a caravan or camped in the ruins of their homes.
“I feel like we’ve been forgotten,” sighs Bec Barker, who lives with her husband in a small trailer at the back of the house they had taken ten years to renovate.
“I don’t think people realize we don’t have a home to come back to, we don’t have any furniture, we don’t have anything,” she adds.
She thought she would spend her old age in this house, but struggling with insurance and ineligible for subsidies, she no longer imagines settling there again.
– “They panic at the sound of rain”
The low profile of climate change in the countryside also suggests that many more Australians are at risk of further droughts, fires and floods.
In the evening, the once lively center of Lismore is now plunged into near darkness, with homes and businesses remaining empty.
In daylight, the damage is still clearly visible. Condemned houses, weakened by the floods, await their demolition. In the trees remain trapped plastic, chairs and family photos.
Residents line up to get basic necessities, distributed by associations.
Many locals have been “in limbo” for months, Lismore resident Rahima Jackson grumbles.
“People here are really angry because every response is too slow,” she explains.
She recounts today the stress that invades the inhabitants: “I know many people who have panic attacks at the sound of the rain”.
To date, the local government has paid just under a fifth of the 38,037 requests for assistance received from individuals or businesses.
Like many victims, Ron Maher, 77, was declared ineligible for aid because his retirement is his main source of income, not his farm.
“It makes me a little bitter. Or more accurately, disappointed,” he says.
– 500,000 uninsurable houses –
Another stumbling block: insurance.
By 2030, nearly 500,000 houses in Australia will not be insurable because they are too exposed to floods, forest fires and winds, according to the Climate Council association.
Even before the February disaster, many Lismore residents could no longer afford flood insurance.
Marine scientist Hanabeth Luke is running for office to redress this with a climate-focused agenda.
A survivor of the 2002 Bali bombings, she earned the nickname “Angel of Bali” after she was photographed carrying a young man out of the rubble of the Sari Club.
She says the floods were an “echo” of the tragedy that killed her first love.
She calls for “trusting what science tells us” and “acting now on the climate”.
Despite rising waters of 14 meters, Karey Patterson, her 8-year-old daughter and two sons survived.
He managed to pierce the wooden ceiling with a dumbbell before the water reached the roof.
A friend rowed for hours in his kayak to come and save the family.
Today, Mr Patterson sleeps on his friend’s sofa, with only one certainty about his future: “I’m not going back to live in this house”.