FLOOD DISASTERS: ‘The community needs to know how to rescue themselves’

ABOVE: Philip Benfield on the right, on the boat rescuing people during the floods. Photo: Contributed

Susanna Freymark

Five weeks after the floods, Philip Benfield is still busy rescuing animals from the floods.

He put the call out for a punt to rescue 20 animals including miniature horses that had been stranded for a month on an ‘island’ at East Coraki.

“The house was built on a raised area and the animals were squashed together,” Philip said.

Northern Rivers Marine donated a punt and two operators to help Philip rescue the animals.

Livestock on the punt on Richmond River. Photo: Contributed

Philip, 44, lives in Goonellabah and he said he runs on adrenaline.

At the height of the floods in Lismore he was out in his Search and Rescue Services boat saving people from roofs.

Philip said he knew the emergency services only had two or three boats.

“Because I have a background in swift water rescue and had 15 years’ experience in Police Rescue in the 2017 flooding, I knew what was going to happen.”

He put his boat into the floodwaters in Lismore and began rescuing people.

Rescuing horses in Coraki. Photo: Contributed

“I was passing 30-50 people on roofs begging for help but I had to rescue the elderly first,” he said.

He posted on Facebook asking anyone with a boat to help.

“If you’ve got a tinnie, come on down, it’s a shit fight,” he wrote.

There were 150 boats out on the floodwaters rescuing people.

The huge community effort of locals helping locals made Philip realise that training was needed.

He set up a Go Fund Me page so he could provide training for people in preparation for the next flood disaster.

Training normally costs $3000 but Philip is offering the course for $100 per person and will use the crowdfunding money to subsidise the costs.

He will take people to the rapids on Nymboida river and go out on Ballina River to give them the skills they need for water rescues.

Being formerly involved with police rescue, RFS, SES and Fire and Rescue, Philip said he can rescue and train without “the politics, the egos and the red tape”.

Now the immediate disaster is over, Philip still uses his Facebook page to fulfill requests for food and livestock rescues in areas still isolated.

The future, he said, is in the community being trained in flood rescues.

“The community needs to know how to rescue themselves,” he said.

He needs a punt though and is looking for someone to donate a customised one that can be used to rescue people and animals,

An inflatable boat like the ones the army use would be good too, he said.

They cost $35,000.

Philip is taking two weeks off to recharge after more than a month of flood rescues.

“I’ll sleep when I can and go flying on my paraglider,” he said.

Philip Benfield training in swift water rescues. Photo: Contributed

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