Weather News

Cyclone Veronica downgraded, homes evacuated as floodwaters rise near Port Hedland

By David Weber, James Carmody and Evan Morgan Grahame, Tuesday March 26, 2019 - 18:25 EDT
ABC image
A family is evacuated from the flooded suburb of Boodarie near Port Hedland. - ABC

The Army has evacuated homes in WA's north-west which have been cut off by rising floodwaters in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Veronica, which has been downgraded to a low after lingering off the Pilbara coast.



Soldiers and police officers in specialist army trucks have managed to reach the isolated suburb of Boodarie on the outskirts of Port Hedland, rescuing 21 people.

Many residents had been left sheltering in their homes, most of which have become temporary islands in the wake of the former cyclone.

Veronica — a category one system overnight — was downgraded by the Bureau of Meteorology early this morning, with red alert warnings lifted for remaining areas including Karratha.



Boodarie resident Ina Bozuric, whose family was among those ferried to safety, said areas that were normally "dry as" were now filled with water "as far as the eye can see".

"It's really unusual, it's just not built for it," said Ms Bozuric.

"The road [going through town] is really, really bad and really damaged … there's been a lot of movement under the road.

"There's bubbles coming up, there's big dips, so you can't see what's under the surface of that water."



Ms Bozuric said people who had lived in the area a long time had never seen the water so high, and it would take a long time to recede.

"They really need to put in some really good drainage so this doesn't happen again," she said.

"Someone really needs to have a look at the natural water flow, which is being blocked by infrastructure."

Fellow residents Jan and Peter Widdup said 110 millimetres of rain had fallen at their property overnight and water was still flowing rapidly in the area.

"Most of the houses in Boodarie are built up and the water that has come in is surrounding most of the houses," Ms Widdup said.

"I'm not sure if any water as gone into any other houses or what damage has been made, but we'll probably be able to assess all that once the water recedes back."



Heavy rain remains a concern

Senior Bureau of Meteorology [BOM] forecaster Pete Clegg said rain could cause significant issues during the day.

"The falls in the Karratha region tend to be fairly light, they haven't had really significant rainfall out of it," Mr Clegg said.

"There have been some bands through the central Pilbara coast though, overnight, that have been quite heavy, so Port Hedland received another 130mm between the period of 9:00pm and 1:00am last night."



But the BOM said its rainfall readings in other parts of the Pilbara may be in doubt, after more than 400mm of rain was recorded in Roebourne.

In a tweet, the bureau described the Roebourne reading as "questionable".

"We're currently investigating if possible flooding has affected the gauge," the BOM said.



No reports of major damage

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said the extent of infrastructure damage — and road conditions — will not be known until later today.



DFES spokesman Tyrone McMahon said there had been more than 80 calls for assistance from Port Hedland, Karratha and across the region.

"We're not seeing reports of major significant damage to any critical infrastructure," he said.

"A lot of the damage is to the residential properties, but nothing of significance.

"Now that we've gone into an 'all clear with caution', people are out and about.

"But we're urging people to be mindful of hazards, trees down in the area, the potential for power lines to be down."



Premier applauds community effort

Premier Mark McGowan flew to the north-west on Tuesday morning to inspect the damage in Karratha and Port Hedland.

He thanked authorities and the local community for their response.

"This had the capacity to be a tragic cyclone, it had the capacity to be devastating," he said.

"The local community has done a marvellous job and all of the volunteers, all of the State Government workers, all of the industry people, have banded together to ensure that this community was ready and that they are dealing with the aftermath very well."



Mr McGowan said while the vast majority of people did the right thing, he condemned reports of looting.

Police arrested nine people in relation to burglaries on Port Hedland businesses while the town was on curfew, several of them children.

"For those people who broke in, stole, looted, it is a disgraceful act and you should be ashamed of yourself," he said.



Mr McGowan said he had asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for support from the Federal Government to aid the cyclone recovery effort.

"I am pleased to say that support was put on standby and if required we will take advantage of that support," he said.

"The advice I have is that there has been some damage to property, but not as significant as expected. I think the main worry at this point in time is flood damage."

Karratha's 'unusually long' red alert

People in Karratha and surrounding areas had been on red alert since Saturday night.



"[It was] an unusually long period to be on a red alert," Mr McMahon said.

"But with this system, ex-tropical cyclone Veronica, it didn't do what normal cyclones do.

"[It was] very slow moving, it got to the coast off the Pilbara and almost stopped there before heading west across Karratha."

DFES operations supervisor Nigel Elliott said crews were checking essential infrastructure across the Pilbara coast, but most damage was relatively minor.

"We've had reports of trees down, roof damage, water leaking through the roof, basically only minor damage with some roofs being peeled off, obviously which is a bit more severe," he said.

No injuries have been reported.



DFES has deployed extra staff to the region, including a taskforce from its statewide operational response division and an urban search and rescue taskforce.

Horizon Power has also been working with communities across the region to restore power outages.

Main Roads said in a statement there was no evidence of any major road damage at Port Hedland, but there had been heavy flooding across sections of North West Coastal and the Great Northern Highways and other major roads in the Pilbara.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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