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Crocodile cruise boat a lifeline for Top End residents cut off by floodwaters

By Jano Gibson, Friday February 2, 2018 - 17:07 EDT
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Floodwaters at Marrakai in the NT. - ABC

Patrick Chappell is standing on the last dry stretch of bitumen before the Arnhem Highway disappears beneath floodwaters.

"The deepest section on the other side of the floodplain [is] probably about 2.1 metres over the highway," he said, pointing out towards the inland sea that's inundated the Marrakai region, 85 kilometres south-east of Darwin.

The bearded local usually takes tourists on crocodile cruises, but he's currently using his vessel as a lifeline for those cut off by the wet season deluge.

"We've got people on the other side that are stuck without supplies and have been caught short," he said.

"Some people have medical issues that need to deal with."

The area has experienced record rainfall, with the nearby town of Humpty Doo recording 1,185mm of rain during January alone.

The Bureau of Meteorology said that although the onset of the monsoon was the fourth-latest since record-keeping began, this year had been one of the wettest, with dozens of sites reaching their highest rainfall on record.

With cars blocked from travelling along a 10-kilometre stretch of flooded highway, the 900 residents of Marrakai have faced significant logistical challenges.

Around 50 students have been unable to attend their local school, and will instead have their lessons at the Corroboree Park Tavern until the waters recede.

Other families have been desperate to get through the floodwaters to visit loved ones at Royal Darwin Hospital.

"There was a family and they've got their grandfather who is seriously ill," Mr Chappell said.

"They need to go to hospital because they don't know how bad he is."

Navigating his boat along the route of the Arnhem Highway is not without its challenges.

"There's a lot of obstructions, not just the fences, power poles, fast water, the odd submerged vehicle," Mr Chappell said.

"You've got to watch all that, 'cause you do your propeller in the wrong place and you can be in trouble."

As an extra precaution, Mr Chappell carries a pistol.

"Just got to be careful because there's a lot of crocodiles," he said.

"It's part of our safety management for our normal practices to carry a sidearm just in case."

The Arnhem Highway is expected to remain closed east of Windows on the Wetlands for several more days.


© ABC 2018

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