Senior Constable Peter 'Nudge' Ellis rushes to the aid of Deon Ord who was trapped by rising flood waters on Keen Street.
Senior Constable Peter 'Nudge' Ellis rushes to the aid of Deon Ord who was trapped by rising flood waters on Keen Street. Marc Stapelberg

'If you get trapped in there you're dead'

"IF YOU get trapped in there you're dead," Senior Constable Peter "Nudge" Ellis said.

"The water pushes continuously against you and it is relentless.

"The force of the water is unbelievable."

For Nudge and fellow police officer Snr Const John Stirling, the floodwater breaking over the levee on the morning of Friday, March 31, resulted in a swift water rescue of local man Deon Ord in the heart of Lismore's CBD.

Nudge had arrived early at work on Friday to do reconnaissance work in the area, when at 5am he and Snr Const Stirling received an alert that a man was stuck on the fence at the Uniting Church on the corner of Keen and Woodlark streets.

"Our first thoughts were 'just another person walking through water'," Nudge said.

"What shocked us was the ferocity of the water.

"When we got closer, we could see Deon."

Nudge said he was mainly thinking of Deon's welfare and where obstacles were.

SES and police swiftwater crews escort Deon Ord to saftey along Keen Street.
AT LEFT AND ABOVE: Senior Constable Peter "Nudge” Ellis at work during the March 31 flood and with his fellow rescuers from the SES and police escorting Deon Ord to safety in Lismore CBD. Marc Stapelberg

"We went right up to the crossing and there were telegraph poles and sign posts - you can easily get hooked on those," he said.

"The rope can get caught on the poles.

"The fences along Woodlark St have thin uprights running through them that you can get trapped against.

"One has to be really, really mindful of the environment."

Nudge said the initial swim across to Deon was the main concern.

"If I was not strong enough then I would get taken down Woodlark St," he said. "The water is pretty dangerous and if someone gets swept into a drain you are usually doing a body recovery.

"It is quicker on the bottom and is moving at a hell of a rate. As soon as I felt my legs get swept from under me I had to aggressively swim and stay on the top as much as I could. I have stood out the front of Gilhooleys (Mary G's pub) many times and if I missed my target I would have to release and float down Woodlark St."

Once Nudge had crossed the raging floodwater to the Uniting Church he tied off the rope that connected him to his fellow rescuers on the other side of the street, before climbing multiple fences to get to Deon and escort him back to their lifeline - the rope.

"I got to him to put a lifejacket on him and pulled him in," Nudge said.

"The poor fella was shivering.

"I helped him over the fence and then reattached the rope (to my lifejacket)."

Nudge said Snr Const Stirling organised other SES volunteers to prepare for the crossing back over the raging floodwater. Among the volunteers was a large man who played an integral part in the rescue, steering Nudge and Deon back across the currents to safety.

"He was an important factor because he was not going to move or let go of the rope," Nudge said.

"He is a man mountain and could take the strain up."

Should anything have gone wrong, Nudge would have been forced to release the rope from his lifejacket and wrap his arms and legs around Deon to stop him being pulled away by the floodwater.

"You do not let him go," he said.

"There's a fair chance he would hit his head, and half a chance he would drown."

The images and video received national attention as Australia turned its eyes to the devastation caused by ex-tropical cyclone Debbie in Lismore.

For many people, the disaster was just beginning.