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Kimberley family lucky to survive after freak storm batters remote community

Erin Parke, Claire Moodie and Sam Tomlin, Friday February 14, 2020 - 15:21 EDT
Audience submitted image
Bawoorrooga Community residents survey the damage from freak storm that struck the community on Tuesday evening. - Audience submitted

A West Australian family has survived a terrifying incident when a fierce storm, described as a "mini-tornado", swept through their property and flipped their transportable home.

The storm struck the Bawoorrooga community, near Fitzroy Crossing in WA's far north without warning on Tuesday night, picking up the family's donga while they were still inside, preparing to go to sleep.

Witnesses said the storm cut a distinct path through the community, with anything 20 metres from the impact site suffering little-to-no damage.

Claude Carter, who has lived at the community for 19 years, said he had never experienced anything like it.

"The donga lifted up and started to flip with us inside," Mr Carter said.

"It must have thrown us out, one by one.

"When I got thrown out, I was knocked out for a while and then the rain woke me up.

"I started to sing out for my family.

"But, I couldn't see them, it was too dark."

The wind flipped a tractor, ripped off the roof and concrete foundations of a toilet block and significantly damaged phones, solar panels and communications equipment.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the storm was not a tornado, but the result of an isolated, intense storm system.

Family left pinned under debris

Mr Carter said his wife emerged from what was left of the donga but they had to sift through sheets of iron to find the rest of the family, with son Hilton found pinned under the wreckage.

"I thought I had lost the whole lot of them," Mr Carter said.

"But, we are very, very lucky.

"Then the next minute, the hailstones stated to hit us, we all got hit around the head and on the body with the hailstones."

Mr Carter's wife and his eldest son are being treated for injuries in Broome hospital, while other community members were treated at Fitzroy Crossing Hospital.

It is the second time the family has been struck by disaster.

Their home burnt down two and a half years ago and the dongas were their temporary accommodation.

Pledge to help rebuild

The Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health [FISH] has been working with Mr Carter to design a new type of adobe house suitable for the Kimberley's challenging climate.

"One of the things that was interesting is that the house Claude, his family and community have designed and have been building was ... actually the building they were able to get shelter in," FISH chief executive Mark Anderson said.

The organisation, alongside the Fitzroy-based Marra Worra Worra Aboriginal Corporation, are working to help the community clean up and rebuild.

"Argyle Diamond Mine has donated a range of buildings from their W campsite, so our immediate need is to get those buildings out to community," Mr Anderson said.

"We're also going to work with Claude and the community to look at all their personal items that have been lost to the storm and how we can support them.

The organisation is aiming to raise $150,000 to decommission, transport and establish the new buildings at Bawoorrooga, with $20,845 already pledged.


© ABC 2020

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