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Cyclone Damien damage closes Karratha Airport as flash flooding warning issued for inland WA

By Karen Michelmore, Monday February 10, 2020 - 19:55 EDT
ABC licensed image
Karratha locals are assessing the damage after the cyclone brought trees down across the city. - ABC licensed

Former Tropical Cyclone Damien is continuing to wreak havoc across the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with Karratha Airport shut down throughout the morning and authorities warning the clean-up could take weeks if not months.

Hundreds of people were today affected by flight cancellations, with flooding and electrical damage forcing the closure of the state's second-busiest airport through the morning. It reopened shortly after midday.

The former category three cyclone continued to weaken on Monday as it passed over the north-east Gascoyne, 160 kilometres south of Paraburdoo.

It was moving south at 12 kilometres per hour, bringing with it heavy rainfall to the parched east of the region, extending into the north-eastern Gascoyne and northern Goldfields.

Council teams were out all day assessing damage, but City of Karratha chief executive Chris Adams warned it would take time.

"Clearly there is a lot of tree damage and a lot of fence damage and a lot of structural damage to some buildings," he said.

"It will take some time. This is not a one- or two-day fix, this will take weeks and/or months to get everything up and going again.

"The public needs to rest assured we are on top of it and we will be working really, really hard to ensure we will get the place operating again as soon as possible."

Threat of flash flooding remains

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said a severe weather warning remained in place in the Gascoyne area for locations including Meekatharra, Mount Magnet and parts of Wiluna.

BOM senior forecaster Neil Bennett told ABC Radio Perth the storm had turned into a low-pressure system moving south of Paraburdoo.

"That was the remnants moving south at 12kph, so it's continuing to weaken, so it's getting harder and harder to find on the charts," he said.

"But you can see it on the satellite imagery and you can see the cloud associated with it and the heavy rainfall that's going to occur with it as well."

Mr Bennett said the wind strength had dropped right off but heavy rainfall was continuing and would extend further south.

"Some falls could be sufficient to cause flash flooding so it's still a dangerous system from a rainfall point of view," he said.

"We're looking at Tuesday for areas really far north-east of the Wheatbelt to potentially find falls of around 10–15 millimetres and then extending down towards the Esperance area with falls of about 1–5mm through there."

"Further to the west, I suppose you could say the central parts of the Central Wheatbelt may see something and then the north-eastern parts of the Great Southern as well, but other areas we're not expecting to see rain from the remnants.

"Then on Wednesday, that continues to track down to the south-east so we're looking at Esperance again, but there's not a huge amount going down there."

Airport suffers 'serious water damage'

Schools and many businesses remained closed in Karratha, as residents continued to mop up and clear countless large trees downed by the cyclonic winds.

Authorities were also racing to restore television services with ongoing outages due to damage to transmitter cables and antennae.

The airport roof was among the buildings damaged by fallen trees, resulting in water leaking into the terminal building which shut the facility throughout the morning.

"It got serious water damage during the cyclone," Karratha Mayor Peter Long said.

"Once the water gets into the electrics, it causes all sorts of problems. I think we had a couple of distribution boards damaged by the cyclone as well."

Gale-force wind gusts of up to 194kph buffeted the airport on Saturday night as .

A number of vehicles in the carpark also sustained serious damage.

The airport provides multiple flights to and from Perth every day and is also a hub for flights to resources projects throughout the Pilbara region.

Crews scramble to restore power

Rio Tinto says it is working with multiple crews to restore power to Wickham and Dampier, which have been without electricity since Saturday.

In a statement, the company said it was unable to give a time when power would be restored and could not say how many people were affected.

"The time of restoration may be different due to localised outages on individual streets and the level of work required to restore services across Wickham, Dampier and surrounding areas," it said.

"Due to the nature of the faults, some streets which currently have power will require power interruptions in order to effect repairs."

Horizon Power said it has restored power to hundreds of customers in Point Samson and Roebourne overnight.

About 30 businesses remained without power on the Burrup Peninsula and this was likely to continue until Wednesday morning.

Horizon said 163 customers were reconnected in Port Samson by 8:30pm yesterday and 458 were reconnected in Roebourne by 5:30pm yesterday.

A further 40 residents in Karratha also remained without power, but Horizon spokeswoman Michelle South urged those affected to contact an electrician as they may have damage to their property affecting supply.

"It certainly has been a wild weekend and a very busy one for our crews who are still out there trying to reconnect the customers who remain without power," she said.

Police station damaged as thieves strike

The local police station in Karratha was also damaged, Pilbara Police Superintendent Kim Massam said.

"It held up to the winds very well, but not the water," he said.

"It unfortunately took a significant amount of water in parts of the police station which we are in the process of repairing at the moment."

There were four burglaries around Karratha during the cyclone, including one this morning — with Superintendent Massam describing it as disappointing but "not ridiculous".

"Port Hedland last year in [Cyclone] Veronica had 20 burglaries in that red period, so we didn't have a significant spike," he said.

Elsewhere in the region, power outages are continuing in some parts of Wickham, where some residents have been without power since Saturday.


© ABC 2020

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