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Araluen Road: Request for urgent assistance

An open letter to NSW Rural Assistance Authority and the National Recovery Agency We are writing on behalf of the residents of the Deua River Valley to request your urgent assistance. As of Friday 7 May, a large group of residents of the Valley are almost entirely landlocked as a result of damage caused by the 2019-20 bushfires and subsequent floods. This area of South Coast NSW centres on a road that runs between Braidwood and Moruya through the township of Araluen (the Araluen Road). Araluen Road includes approximately 60km of unsealed surface that runs through the Deua National Park and a large section of state forest. There are many farmers that rely on the road to transport produce as well as local residents who use the road daily. In normal times, it is a popular tourist destination, bringing vital economic activity to the broader area. The area was heavily impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires. Virtually all properties suffered some degree of damage and many were lost entirely. Similarly, the road itself suffered substantial damage. In late 2020, following a flood event that exacerbated damage caused by the fires, a major landslide occurred on the road toward the Moruya end. Since that time, the road has been closed to non-residents entirely and access to Moruya has been via an unmarked, very difficult, combination of fire trails. Due to the road being unsuitable for delivery vehicles, this situation has created substantial delays and difficulties for residents trying to rebuild after the fires. It has also made transporting produce a complex logistical exercise, caused substantial damage to multiple vehicles and effectively eliminated all tourist activity. More importantly than the above, though, the lack of access recently put the life of at least one resident at risk. Following a health incident, an ambulance was called to this person’s place. In transporting the resident to hospital along the detour road, the ambulance became lost, ending up on very severely degraded roads. Thankfully, they were ultimately able to make it to Moruya in time but it could so easily have resulted in a much worse outcome. Furthermore, after several days in hospital, this person was collected by a family member. Their return journey over the detour road unfortunately coincided with another major rain event. During their journey, the conditions worsened so badly, the only way they could proceed (either forward or backward) was with a guide walking in front of the vehicle directing it. Straight out of hospital, they were forced to walk in the rain and the fog in front of their vehicle to make it home! Current advice from the Eurobodalla Shire Council (who are responsible for the impacted section of the road) is that it will still be many months before the landslide at the Moruya end is resolved. And now, on Friday evening, following another flood event, another major landslide has occurred. This time toward the Braidwood end. The residents caught in between are now effectively landlocked, with access to emergency vehicles near impossible, produce rotting on trucks and residents facing all manner of other inconveniencies, both minor and potentially life-threatening. I am aware, for example, of at least two residents who are caring for relatives with severe long term health conditions who would now not be able to access timely support if needed. Of course, this all adds to the mental health burden they are facing following the trauma of the fires. How can they possibly recover and move on when they continue to face such conditions? Please help. Urgently. We are aware that the Council, which is facing many challenges across the region, has already applied for financial support from both the NSW and Australian Governments. They are stretched across a large, heavily impacted, area though. Even with substantial additional funding, it seems unlikely that they will have the workforce and resources to fix the road anytime soon. Additional practical assistance is required urgently to avoid the residents being put at further risk of harm. Can, for example, the Australian Defence Force be activated to assist? Or resources directed from elsewhere in the state? Yours gratefully, Dr Adrian Webster Rebekah Bowman, Midwife