Evacuees from flood-hit Northern Territory remote communities are not yet allowed to return to their homes, with authorities citing badly damaged infrastructure and a lack of safe drinking water.
The communities of Kalkarindji, Daguragu and Pigeon Hole were all inundated by fast-rising floodwaters after the Victoria River broke its banks late last month.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated by air and have been housed for up to a fortnight at Darwin's former COVID quarantine centre in Howard Springs.
Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison said there remains "a very big job ahead" and declined to estimate how long it might be before people can start returning home.
"We are going through those plans about how we can get people back into their homes safely [and] as quickly as possible," Ms Manison said.
"We know that Daguragu and Pigeon Hole, in particular, are going to need significant amounts of work.
"We are deeply concerned about the level of damage to some of those places."
She said repairs are needed to critical infrastructure and safe drinking water is yet to be confirmed in Daguragu and Pigeon Hole.
Photos of the communities supplied by government officials show thick, dried mud caking the floors of houses, football grandstands littered with debris and a local schoolroom trashed by water damage.
Evacuees seeking timeline on when they can return home
One Kalkarindji leader and Gurindji traditional owner, Rob Roy, said that after weeks in emergency accommodation, some in the Howard Springs centre were beginning to grow restless.
"I have a lot of people asking me, 'when are we going back? How long are we staying?'" Mr Roy said.
"They're homesick and they are worried about their cats and dogs."
Mr Roy said he's optimistic many people could be home in weeks rather than months.
However, he said he understood the scale of the clean-up effort ahead.
"There's a lot of work there to do," he said.
"Most of the houses that have been inundated still got no power, they have got to make sure the water is alright and safe to drink.
"Our general store, what I heard, is there's no food in there and there's got to be a big clean up there. They're going to have to do that job before everybody goes back."
Residents restricted from returning home
The Buntine Highway, which connects the three communities to other major highways, was reopened this week.
But Ms Manison warned residents against attempting to make the journey home.
"We're trying to work to make sure that only people that should be in the community are in the community," she said.
"We're trying to coordinate that, we're working through that, and we're trying to restrict as much movement in there as possible."
An emergency declaration remains in place, which allows the government to declare access to a community closed.
Authorities have said it's likely Kalkarindji residents will be the first allowed to return to their community.
Media outlets have so far been denied permission to enter the communities to report on the damage or clean up effort.