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Cyclone awareness: Darwin locals find they still have things to learn this season

By Jesse Thompson, Tuesday October 31, 2017 - 16:15 EDT
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Todd Smith says residents in Darwin can become complacent about cyclones. - ABC

Cyclone season gets underway tomorrow, and new and seasoned residents of Darwin have flocked to an information session to learn how best to get cyclone-ready.

About 100 locals attended a grassroots cyclone awareness session on Monday night, with some of them about to head into their first-ever season.

In a two to three tropical cyclones form in the region.

While the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is not expecting a busier year than normal, it is Darwin's changing population that can prove unpredictable.

"Where the risk lies is that we have a very transient population," BOM NT regional director Todd Smith said.

"A lot of people might come up from down south and may not have been through a cyclone or through a wet season before.

"So that's an area we target with our awareness-raising."

The session, part of a monthly community dinner held by Darwin Community Arts, drew in people with a diverse array of backgrounds and cyclone seasons behind them.

"It's a very non-confronting situation," organiser Becky Hedland-Thomas said of the event.

"You can get across something where people may usually feel scared or exposed, but it also shows that you need to get the information out there."

Bernard and Priya — four cyclone seasons

Bernard and Priya Davey are no strangers to tropical storms, but a severe tropical cyclone is something they have never been through.

"We've maybe been through a category one cyclone when we were back in India, but over here nothing major," Ms Davey said.

Mr Davey said when they came to Darwin four years ago, they did not have much trouble finding the information they needed to stay safe, turning to newspapers, radio and the internet to get prepared.

"I'd say we're well protected this time around," he said.

"We've got all our tinned food, we've got our first-aid kit, and we've seen that there are no loose or big items around the yard."

They said the presentation reminded them there were still a few supplies they needed for a full cyclone kit, and they would be hunting around for batteries, fuel and a portable stove in the next few weeks.

"Just in case there's no electricity. We'd like to keep that as an option," Mr Davey said.

Rebecca — five cyclone seasons

Mr Smith warned that complacency could become an issue for Top End residents at the other end of the spectrum — those who had lived through quieter seasons.

"When you're living in small location like Darwin, you may not necessarily experience a tropical cyclone for many, many years," he said.

"But it's going to happen again one day."

Even though she has lived in the Territory for five years, Rebecca Sonsie-Daams was a little hesitant when asked how prepared she was for the coming season.

"After watching that, I think we're a little bit prepared. I think we've got a lot more work to do," she said.

"We've got a few outdoor tables — a glass one as well — and I think we'll need to think through whether we're going to tether everything down or put it away."

Nepitoa — two cyclone seasons

Nepitoa Fehoko looked back on her first cyclone season and commented on how risky it could be for newly arrived Australians like herself.

"I don't think I really cared, because I come from a tropical island, so I really didn't take notice," she said.

She was at work when her first cyclone warning was issued, but when her boss advised staff to go home, she took an unusual course of action.

"I stayed back," she said.

"[My co-workers] said 'What are you doing here?' And I said 'Work'. So that's how much I didn't really acknowledge what was going on."

It took a barrage of text messages to prompt Ms Fehoko to leave the office about an hour later.

Looking back on the experience, she said making information available for people from similar backgrounds was invaluable.

"I never had it until today, and I realised it's really good to do a presentation," she said.

"I think something is needed to educate or let people get aware."


© ABC 2017

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