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NSW flood disaster road not closed: pastor

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/04/2017

A New Zealand mother feared drowned with two of her children in a flood-ravaged New South Wales river did not act negligently by driving along a closed road, the local pastor says.

Rob Stuttle, from the Living Waters Pentecostal Church in Tumbulgum, says news of the tragedy began to spread just as the emotional impact of flooding and clean-up efforts was hitting home.

"The reality has kicked in of what we've been through," he said on Tuesday after spending the morning visiting locals.

The 43-year-old woman, believed to originally be from Auckland but living in Australia, her seven-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, are feared drowned after the family car veered off a muddy road in Tumbulgum into the surging Tweed River.

The family is reportedly from nearby Bilambil with media naming the missing mother as Stephanie King, her son Jacob Kabealo and daughter Ella-Jane Kabealo.

The woman's eight-year-old daughter was able to escape.

Pastor Stuttle said contrary to reports, the road used by the family was not closed.

"It's hard enough that this family has the loss, but for the public to think she was doing something that was negligent .... I wanted to right that injustice and make sure the truth got out there," he said.

There was no barrier to stop traffic veering off the road, he said.

Residents of the town, which has a population of just 400, are already exhausted from cleaning up in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

"We've had three days now and you get in and get it done, but now the emotion starts to kick in," Pastor Stuttle said.

It would be important for residents to communicate, share their stories and get counselling, he added.

"We're going to set up a marquee and a table and chairs and say come and have a coffee," he said.

"A lot of people just want information."

Police divers from Sydney will search for the bodies on Tuesday.

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