news

Mother who drowned in Tweed River died while desperately trying to save her children.

Stephanie King died while trying to save her children after their car was swept into the raging Tweed River in northern NSW on Monday afternoon.

The 43-year-old’s body has been retrieved from the car alongside the bodies of her seven-year-old son Jacob and 11-year-old daughter Ella Jane.

The mother of three was found holding one of her children, and police believe she lost consciousness trying to free them from the crash.

“That woman is a hero, she died trying to save her children,” LAC Superintendent Wayne Starling told the media on Tuesday.

“I have no doubt she would still be alive if she wasn’t trying to save her children.”

Eight-year-old Chloe May did escape the sinking vehicle and suffered scratches and cuts but no life-threatening injuries.

“[Chloe May]’s obviously traumatised by the incident,” Tweed Byron LAC Chief Inspector Mick Dempsey told ABC Radio.

Ms King has been described as a “remarkable woman”. She was driving along muddy Dulguigan Road in the tiny flood-ravaged town of Tumbulgum when the vehicle veered of the road.

Stephanie King, Jacob and Ella-Jane drowned, while daughter Chloe escaped the vehicle. (Image via Facebook.)

Police divers from Sydney arrived mid-morning on Tuesday to complete the retrieval task.

ADVERTISEMENT

The family is understood to be from nearby Bilambil, and the father, Matt Kabealo, worked as a chef at the Kingscliff Beach Bowls Club.

General Manager Phillip Kelly said Mr Kabealo had become part of the club's family.

"He hasn't been here a long time but he's really fitted in," he said.

"Matt and Chloe are going to need a lot of support and we're going to do what we can."

The club initiated a GoFundMe page as soon as it heard the tragic news and more than $10,000 was donated in three hours on Tuesday.

Ms King's car was located on Monday with sonar equipment about five metres from the northern bank of the river.

It's been reported the road the car was travelling on was closed and covered in flood debris, but locals continued using it to get to homes in the area

This was denied by local pastor Rob Stuttle, who told AAP the road wasn't closed and there were no barriers preventing traffic.

The cause of the incident is being investigated.

Tumbulgum, with a population of just 400, remains under evacuation orders.

"Many of the roads are treacherous," SES spokeswoman Becky Gollings told AAP.

Tributes from devastated family and friends have been flowing for Ms King, an assistant in nursing at Opal Aged Care in Tweed Heads, and her two children on Facebook.

The tragedy would have a major impact on the family and the Tweed community, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Jeff Loy told the ABC on Monday.

It's the latest catastrophe in what's been a devastating few days for flood-hit northern NSW residents, with two women aged 36 and 64 confirmed dead and a 46-year-old man dying of a heart attack when paramedics couldn't reach him.

A massive clean-up operation is under way as communities pick up the pieces of ruined homes and businesses in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

Since Thursday, the SES has dealt with more than 2700 jobs and 480 flood rescues.

00:00 / ???