NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a tour of the South Coast that the government had not forgotten the hundreds of bushfire survivors still living in caravans, sheds and other temporary accommodation.
Ms Berejiklian visited a fire recovery centre in Moruya on Tuesday before checking the progress of the $275 million Batemans Bay bridge over the Clyde River, which the government expects to partially open before the Easter long weekend.
Transport Minister and local member Andrew Constance said the new bridge was opening months ahead of schedule and would ease dangerous traffic congestion at what often became a bottle-neck on the Princes Highway.
“The bridge next to us used to break down and it was dangerous for our community, no emergency services could get across … it’s not just about being a new bridge, it’s about being a safe bridge,” Mr Constance said.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time given COVID and given traffic volumes as those who can’t travel internationally have decided to come to the South Coast.”
The bridge will open to one lane of traffic in each direction by late March and ahead of the Easter long weekend, though the government does not yet have a date for when all four lanes will begin operating.
The existing bridge will remain open while single lanes operate on the new structure, and it will be torn down after its successor is fully operational.
While border restrictions have boosted local tourism, it has also reduced the amount of accommodation in the region as dozens of families remain without a permanent home.
Ms Berejiklian acknowledged there was no “quick fix” to housing issues, but said the government was committed to ensuring the bushfire recovery consisted of more than a clean-up.
“A lot of rebuilding has started but there are still significant parts of some communities who are yet to move forward like we would like and I would just like to let everyone know who has been impacted is that you’re not forgotten,” she said.
“We know the rebuilding effort is still a long way to its conclusion, and we know the pain and suffering the communities are still experiencing. I heard it and saw it first-hand today.”
Close to 130 people remain in temporary housing in the Eurobodalla shire alone, while eight are classified as homeless.
Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Support Service coordinator Jane Robertson met with Ms Berejiklian and asked for more resources, given the centre was assisting more than 800 people.
“People have been staying in caravans, sheds, sharing with family members, it’s been a real problem,” Ms Robertson said.
“They’ve been a great short-term measure, but its pretty crowded having your family in a pod.”
Ms Robertson said while the acute terror and grief of the bushfires had dissipated, mental health services in the community were stretched as people were left to deal with the long-term recovery.
“People are also still suffering great financial stress, dealing with their insurance companies, many people are under-insured, or they weren’t insured at all,” she said.
More than 500 homes were destroyed in the region alone, with three lives lost.
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