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Cyclone sees Australian Defence Force sent to Northampton in WA to help residents rebuild

Friday April 16, 2021 - 07:42 EST
ABC image
The army reserve is in Northampton assisting with the cleanup. - ABC

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been sent to Western Australia's Mid West region to help thousands of people get back on their feet after Tropical Cyclone Seroja carved a path of destruction through the state.


The coastal town of Kalbarri, about 700 kilometres north of Perth, and nearby Northampton bore the brunt of the category three cyclone as it hit the west coast Sunday night.


While the cyclone weakened as it tracked inland, damage has been reported from remote towns as far east as Southern Cross, 370 kilometres east of Perth in the state's Wheatbelt.


The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Assistant Commissioner, Craig Waters, said the widespread damage was worse than expected.


"We're still getting requests for assistance coming in from people in remote areas," he said.


"The focus for us now is getting a really good handle on the amount of damage ? before we start committing crews further to do other operational works."


DFES said almost 500 emergency services personnel were in the region to help with the clean-up effort, plus another 47 defence personnel.


Football players, army offer helping hand


As telecommunication is slowly restored in Geraldton, resident Flynn Drage, who grew up in Northampton, put a call-out on social media for volunteers to help with the town's clean-up.


The task force, which includes players from local football clubs, was assisting the Army to clear debris from the oval before turning its attention to nearby farming properties.


"All my family's up here, my cousin lost his roof and they were hiding in the laundry all night," Mr Drage said.


"We're trying to get around everyone and look after each other.


"We'll just bounce around from place to place and clean up what we can."


Mr Drage said he hopes to rally an even bigger group of helpers on Thursday.


Farmers 'choked up' by support


Farmer Jessica Horstman is still counting the cost of the cyclone, but said the damage bill would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


She said she was surprised by how quickly people offered to help clean up their family farm near Northampton.


"My maid of honour from 10 years ago is driving up today and buying fuel for us," she said.


"My sister in Exmouth is driving down with fuel, and friends from Geraldton just rocked up yesterday and jumped on the chainsaw.


"You get choked up just thinking about the thought people put into other people at this time.


"As long as everyone's trying to support each other, we'll definitely get through it."


Community rallies to help those in need


Residents in Mingenew, about 100 kilometres south-east of Geraldton, have already stepped up to help those in the community who have been impacted by the destructive cyclone.


Shire chief executive Nils Hay said a couple of homes "imploded" and roofs were ripped off as the system passed by.


But he said everyone is counting their lucky stars after hearing of the extensive damage in Kalbarri.


"We're a pretty resilient mob out here," he said.


"We've had some great volunteer work already; there's been folks down at the school with chainsaws, removing branches so school can go back, and others just helping out their neighbours."


Services slowly restored


About 28,600 homes and businesses are still without power with Western Power working to re-energise the Geraldton substation on Wednesday.


Western Power has deployed emergency response generators to support emergency services, while additional generators have been rolled out by businesses and private enterprise.


"There's significant damage to the infrastructure which could take several days up to a couple of weeks to restore in some locations," Assistant Commissioner Waters said.


"We're doing everything we can to try and get the community back to some level of normality, notwithstanding this is going to be a long recovery process."


Some supermarkets, petrol stations, fast food outlets and chemists have been able to re-open.


While some mobile phone reception was restored late yesterday afternoon, much of the network is still down.


At one of the evacuation centres set up for those unable to live in their homes, authorities said a woman went into labour and was taken to hospital.


Commissioner urges patience


DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said seven properties in Kalbarri had been completely destroyed.


Another 30 had severe damage, 45 moderate and 81 slight damage, but 165 properties had not yet been assessed.


Commissioner Klemm said 24 properties in Northampton were severely damaged, 24 moderately and 66 slightly.


He said assessment in that town had finished and a further 121 homes and seven non-residential structures were not damaged.


Commissioner Klemm said it was "going to be two years" for the recovery effort to be completed and for people to rebuild their homes and businesses.


"This recovery will be an extended one," he said.


He said almost 35,000 square kilometres was affected, all the way from Kalbarri down to Southern Cross.


Commissioner Klemm said he knew residents were keen to push on with the recovery, but urged them to be careful as there were still significant dangers.


Commissioner Klemm, who visited some of the towns yesterday with Premier Mark McGowan and other officials said the scenes of the damage would never leave him.







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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