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Carnarvon residents devastated by Gascoyne's worst floods in a decade

By Louise Miolin and Susan Standen, Friday February 19, 2021 - 22:21 EDT

Earlier this month, a tropical low dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain across north-west Western Australia, causing the worst floods in the Gascoyne region in a decade. 

The town of Carnarvon is surrounded by five levees, the largest of which was built in 2013 after major flooding in 2010.

When last fortnight's floods hit, the town centre was protected ? but for residents outside the levees, like Connie Elliot, it was a different story.

She and other residents of the caravan park were prepared to leave on the afternoon of February 6.

Instead, Ms Elliot woke in the early hours of the morning as water rushed into her caravan.

"It came through the fence and the pipe and it was just like a double whammy," she said.

"We copped a pretty massive dose of it."

Resident Garfield Bissett said the damage at the park was staggering.

"We weren't allowed back in for five or six days, everybody's fridges were buggered, the food was buggered, the smell was unbelievable," he said.

Carnarvon Shire president Eddie Smith said it was unfortunate that the levee system could not protect every area.

"The town is great," he said.

"But outside the levee banks, there are a number of properties that are struggling a bit."

Insurance woes

Caravan park owners Cindy and Kevin Barrett evacuated the park and housed residents in their motel when the flood hit.

They said people in the park were having difficulty accessing government assistance and their insurance.

"Most of these people, their caravans are insured when they're on the road, but when they stop and stay in a caravan park there's no insurance," Ms Barrett said.

"Just a small token from the government would be nice."

Country Women's Association fundraising could be a lifeline for park residents, with the organisation's disaster grant now open to Carnarvon locals.

State president Elaine Johnson said people could apply for one-off payments of up to $500 to provide immediate, short-term relief.

"Whether it's fuel for a generator, fuel for your vehicle, some money towards overnight accommodation, or even just taking the family out for a takeaway, it's just a helping hand," Ms Johnson said.

The Department of Communities said it was seeking clarification on what support could be available to evacuees who were not registered with the evacuation centre.

"The department provided assistance to a number of people impacted by the Carnarvon flooding, including travellers whose journeys were interrupted by the event, people who attended the established evacuation centre, and three people who had been staying at the Carnarvon Caravan Park," a spokesperson said.

Desperate for dirt

Further out of town, the local growers who supply much of Perth's fruit and vegetables are anxiously awaiting the government's assessment of the damage.

Joyce Babun estimated tens of thousands of dollars worth of crops had been destroyed at her property, as well as key machinery routes.

She said she needed several tonnes of topsoil to get back on track, but could not access it or put a value on the damage until the assessments were complete.

"I'm slightly frustrated, but I do understand sometimes things don't work as quickly as we would like them to work," Ms Babun said.

A Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development spokesperson said the department was working as fast as it could to assess properties.

"On-ground assessments are expected to take at least a week, subject to weather and river conditions in the area," they said.

Mr Smith said the topsoil shortage was a major concern and he understood the frustrations.

"I'd ask the growers to try to be a bit patient because it is going to take some gathering, all this information," he said.

"But I also know they're all keen to get their crops in the ground."


© ABC 2021

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