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Cyclone Seroja leaves Kalbarri residents 'shell-shocked' as power may be out for days

Tuesday April 13, 2021 - 13:58 EST
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A block of villas in Kalbarri significantly damaged by the cyclone. - ABC

The power could be out for days in the Mid West region after towns were decimated by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja on Sunday night, which ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and flooded streets.

About 70 per cent of Kalbarri's buildings were damaged when cyclone Seroja slammed into WA's Mid West coast on Sunday night, when winds reached up to 170 kilometres an hour.

Kalbarri is a popular holiday destination about 700 kilometres north of Perth.

WA Emergency Services minister Reece Whitby said some telephone communications were due to be restored on Tuesday.

"In terms of electricity it's a longer story. It could be days, the extensive damage to the network is an issue there," Mr Whitby said.

"We don't want to be restoring power when lines are still down."

DFES commissioner Darren Klemm said help was coming from a number of areas.

"In the last 24 hours we've seen over 160 personnel move into the Mid West from across the state, both DFES personnel and importantly volunteers," he said.

"They're putting their hand up to come here, particularly the State Emergency Service volunteers, because they know there's been many times when volunteers out of the Mid West have been deployed into other parts of the state to help other communities."

He also said an army reserve until had made itself available if needed.

Residents tell of terror as cyclone bears down

A fisherman who rode out the category three cyclone system moored off the coast of Kalbarri said he thought he would go down with his boat, as residents of WA's Mid West remain without power and lines of communication on Tuesday after the system carved a path of destruction through the region.

Northampton, to Kalbarri's south-east, also bore the brunt of the cyclone.

Local Kalbarri fisherman Jerome Teakle, who has lived in the town for 28 years, said he had never seen weather as bad as this.

"A lot of fishermen, they love their boats, they don't want to see their boats go down, a lot of the guys want to stick to their boats in the bad weather," he said.

Mr Teakle said he and about 10 other fishermen had a meeting before the cyclone hit and decided to stay on their boats, thinking they would be reasonably secure. 

"It started off and it was bad enough and we thought 'okay, that's not too bad', but then in a space of about 20 minutes it just went to another level ? something I've never seen before in my life, in all the experience in my life," he said.

"The big thing was the storm surge, because one minute the water was on the walkway ? in the space of five minutes it rose 15 feet  ? getting close to 160, 170 kilometre [per hour] winds, 15 foot surge, all boats rose up 15 feet."

Mr Teakle said at least five boats were damaged.

"When it got to the maximum wind speeds and the highest of the tides, I thought if it goes, if it's going to go, I'll go down with the boat," he said.

"There was no way I could get off the boat ? I had my life jacket on, but I don't think it would've even saved me at the time if I jumped off the boat." 

'We started to hear roofs rip off'

Dylan Stevenson was at a friend's house when the cyclone hit.

"We actually thought it passed at about five or six o'clock ? we were thinking the worst had come," he said.

"We cracked open a beer at seven o'clock, it had just hit and we were struggling to even keep calm because we started to hear roofs rip off, we'd started to hear trees snapping ? flying across into people's houses and basically ? realised it was more serious than anyone thought.

"About 15 minutes into the first gusts we had the carport roof rip off and fly to the neighbour's house and about 10 minutes after that we had the largest tree in the street fly off and hit my mate's car, crushing it," he said.

Mr Stevenson said his next steps would be to slowly rebuild his badly damaged home.

Residents left 'shell shocked'

The manager of Kalbarri's State Emergency Service, Steve Cable, described the storm as frightening and extremely intense.

He said many locals had been left feeling anxious.

"So now it's just clean-up. It's all about people," he said.

"There's people who are shell-shocked, people who have lost their homes.

"People ? who have got no communications, no radio, no television, no mobile phones so people can't even contact their loved ones, so there's a lot of anxiety."

West Coast Eagles player Jamie Cripps posted a photo on instagram of a destroyed home.

Acting Eagles captain Jeremy McGovern said he and another player from Northampton, Josh Kennedy, would be ok.

"Obviously a lot of people they know have been affected. It's terrible. You hate seeing it," McGovern said.

"It's a bit of a freak cyclone. You don't really expect it, so they're all a bit shaken up there.

"I wish them all the best and I know all the boys here at the footy club are going to do whatever we can to help support them.

"I want to let them all know that we are behind them and we support you. Keep your chins up and we'll help you out when we can."

Telecommunications issues ongoing

DFES Deputy Commissioner Craig Waters said emergency services were working to restore power supplies to the almost 30,000 properties still left without electricity.

Most of those are in Kalbarri, Northampton and northern Geraldton. 

"Our main priority in the next couple of days is the restoration of critical electrical infrastructure and power supplies back in the affected area," Deputy Commissioner Waters said.

"Telecommunications has been a significant issue from the onset.

"We've had issues talking with our incident management teams onsite and obviously the community in trying to get in contact with friends and loved ones also to relay information to them.

"We managed to get an NBN Sky Muster vehicle up there which has improved significantly the communications."

Long queues at Geraldton supermarkets

IGA supermarket spokesman Stu Bain said all three stores in Geraldton managed to open today.

Mr Bain said people began queueing at one of the stores two hours before it opened.

He said while queues have remained long all day, most people were being reasonable in regards to what they were purchasing.

"We've put limits on bread and ice and things like that just because it is limited in this town, it's not something that there's a heap of here, and milk as well," he said.

"We just want to make sure there's enough to share around, we've got loads coming every day but just want to make sure everyone who comes today can get some of what they need."

Damage assessments continue

"Our rapid damage assessment teams have continued to do assessments of all the buildings," Deputy Commissioner Waters said.

"We've done about three-quarters of the buildings in Kalbarri and Northampton at this stage, but there's still a lot of work to do."

He said extra emergency crews from New South Wales and Victoria have also started arriving in WA to help with the massive recovery effort.

Immediate financial assistance

The federal government will provide initial financial support of up to $1,000 per person for Kalbarri residents.

Federal Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud said a disaster recovery payment of $400 per child and $1,000 per adult would be made available in immediate support.

In addition, residents would also be eligible for an additional joint support payment with the WA government of up to $800 per family.

Mr Littleproud said 40 support personnel, including engineers and disaster planners, were being sent to Kalbarri to help with the recovery process.

"You've got to understand the significant event that this cyclone posed to Western Australia," he said.

"In fact, the Bureau of Meteorology has been unable to find in their records a cyclone that has crossed the coast so far south in Western Australia.

"So many of those communities were not prepared for the extent of a category three cyclone that was impacting their communities.

"So obviously, this is an extreme event that those communities have had to endure."

'Clarity' sought from insurance industry

Mr Littleproud said he had also reached out to the insurance industry, concerned about the extent of cover in Kalbarri considering it is not typically impacted by severe cyclones.

"We want clarity from the insurance industry about their support and their contractual arrangements with those policyholders, being household and small businesses," he said.

"The federal government is working as close as we can, not only with the Western Australian government, but with industry, to make sure that whatever support is required is provided."

It's remarkable no-one died: Premier

Premier Mark McGowan travelled to Kalbarri to survey the damage.

Mr McGowan described flying into the town and seeing badly damaged homes, businesses and farming land, with power poles snapped in two.

"It's fair to say there's a lot of devastation ? it looks to me like large parts of Kalbarri and other communities near here are a war zone," he said.

"It's been a devastating experience I'm sure for many people in these communities, and a very, very difficult time lies ahead."

The Premier described the cyclone as a "one in 50-year event".

"When I look at these properties [in Kalbarri] and I know that in some of them people were there, it's remarkable no one was injured or died as a consequence," he said.

"We know that a man died late last week in Ningaloo, and we're trying to get to the bottom of what occurred there ? it may well be related to the other cyclone to the north of here."

Mr McGowan thanked local communities, emergency services and volunteers, and said the clean-up would be the next challenge.

"The clean-up here is going to be a massive exercise," he said.

"We're asking tourists not to come in. There's obviously a lot of devastation here, and it's not a time for tourists to visit."

The Premier is due to meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday while he's in Western Australia, and said he would ensure the PM was aware of what cyclone-affected communities needed.


© ABC 2021

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