Residents and businesses in Carnarvon, in Western Australia’s north-west, are beginning to assess the damage from a “once-in-a-decade flood” as water starts to recede.
- While the clean-up will be costly, banana growers are pleased with the rain
- The WA Government will apply for federal disaster relief funding
- The DFES says flood mitigation measures in Carnarvon appear to have worked
Heavy rain from a tropical low caused flooding across the north-west of Western Australia last week, setting rainfall records in Carnarvon and Minilya.
The Gascoyne River, which peaked at 7.1 metres at Nine Mile Bridge on Saturday morning, is currently sitting below six metres.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the Gascoyne River flooded every 10 years, on average, with the last significant flood in December 2010, when the river peaked at 7.7 metres.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Superintendent Craig Smith said there had been 50 requests for assistance in the Carnarvon area.
“It certainly wasn’t as bad as it could have been if the river had [have] gone further up than the 7.1 metres, but certainly there will be some people impacted,” he said.
Superintendent Smith said residents in low-lying areas were the worst impacted by the flooding.
The Gascoyne River peaked at 7.1 metres, causing widespread flooding in Carnarvon.(Supplied: Darcie Botica)
Caravan park resident says evacuation came as a shock
Tom Wainwright was evacuated from the Carnarvon Caravan Park at 3:45am on Saturday.
“We just grabbed the pets and what we were wearing [and] our phone, and off we went,” he said.
Mr Wainwright had been waiting to get back into the park and assess the damage, but he expected his caravan to be a write-off.
“Obviously there’s no power, there’s no water, so once that’s all assessed we’ll be able to go back in,” he said.
“We were told to prepare for flooding, that’s all, we weren’t warned or told [about] a possible evacuation.”
Shire of Carnarvon president Eddie Smith said he was not sure how the caravan park had missed out on the information.
“I find it unusual that they weren’t given the message because there was plenty of messaging going out by the shire, by DFES, by the police, so I’m not sure how that particular caravan park missed out,” Mr Smith said.
The flooding caused significant damage on the North West Coastal Highway.(Supplied: Rob Minson)
Road may take seven days to reopen
Main Roads has reopened the North West Coastal Highway from Overlander Roadhouse to Carnarvon, restoring the Carnarvon-to-Geraldton route, which is south of the town.
However, it could be a week before a road north of Carnarvon is reopened.
Main Roads spokesman Dean Roberts said North West Coastal Highway remained closed north of Carnarvon from the Blowholes through Minilya to Burkett Road.
“We have 10 kilometres of road which has been completely washed away with the severity of the floods,” he said.
Mr Roberts said crews had been unable to assess the road because “the water is still around six metres above the road”.
Crews are mobilised south and north of Minilya waiting for the floodwater to recede.
Levee ‘appears’ to have worked, DFES says
Since the 2010 flooding, a diversionary flood levee has been in place in Carnarvon.
Superintendent Smith said it worked by slowing the water down, and at this stage it appears to have worked.
“Obviously once the river goes down, the engineering side of that will be looked at [to make] sure it was working as best it could,” he said.
DFES said it could take days for the water to flow out and return to normal.
Mr Smith said once the water had receded, the community would have a better idea of the scale of the required clean-up effort.
Premier Mark McGowan said WA would seek federal government support to assist in the town’s recovery.
“The Minister for Emergency Services has advised me that the Fire Commissioner, Darren Klemm, will make an application under the national disaster relief arrangements so we can get the roads, in particular, up and operational as soon as possible,” Mr McGowan said.
Mr Smith said the planned application for funding assistance was “very good news”.
“The community is really pulling together on this one it’s absolutely wonderful and everyone’s helping everybody,” he said.
A flood levee was built in Carnarvon after the last significant event in 2010.(Supplied: Vince Catania)
Banana growers welcome rain
Doriana Mangili, the business manager at the Sweeter Banana Co-operative, said there was a silver lining to the tropical low.
“It’s just a blessing to get a river and know that we’ve got irrigation water for the next two years,” she said.
“Once we get that initial clean-up underway, Carnarvon’s going to blossom because we’re going to have beautiful water to irrigate crops for the next couple of years.”
Member for North West Vince Catania said as the water receded, growers would be assessing the damage.
“We’ll have to see about the effect on paddocks which haven’t [been] planted yet what erosion there may be with the topsoil, obviously infrastructure with your irrigation and so forth they’re the things people will be assessing,” Mr Catania said.
“With the shortage of workers to pick [fruit and vegetables], I think this is where we do need government assistance to assist people on cleaning up.”
Ms Mangili said growers in the region were still assessing the damage, but many of the co-op’s growers did not receive any water on their property.
The Gascoyne River flows below North West Coastal Highway.(Supplied: Michelle Kearney)
“From my assessment of where all our growers are located on the river, about 70 per cent of them have had very little to no flood damage at all,” she said.
“Then we’ve got 30 per cent that are at the western end of North River Road who have suffered a little bit more the water seems to have been a little bit higher there.”
Most of the co-op’s growers are ready to start picking on Monday, with the road south of Carnarvon reopened.
“It’s our peak season we’ve got a lot [of fruit] hanging, so we’re going to be able to harvest it and pack it tomorrow if we get the power back on, but that will be pointless unless we can get it on the road and to Perth,” she said.
Demand for bananas had increased since the lockdown had lifted, Ms Mangili added.
“With the lockdown being lifted on Friday, people are out shopping so our orders are going up,” she said.
“We definitely need to [move some of] our fruit out now so we’ve got some in the shops next week.”