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​A summer like no other
Saturday 1 April 2017 – 1:00 PM

Colder than average, wet, and with floods from the northernmost tip of the State to the south, summer brought with it extensive damage and isolation as heavy rains wreaked havoc on infrastructure and made roads impassable.

In mid-February most of the state was declared a natural disaster zone, with affected areas stretching from Karratha in the State's north to Esperance in the south. In Perth’s Swan Valley, severe flooding submerged vineyards destroying crops.

DFES personnel and volunteers worked tirelessly to resupply isolated communities, transporting supplies by helicopter and plane, as well as undertaking a month-long fuel resupply operation. Emergency services rescued a numerous community members who became stranded or endangered by floodwaters.

Illustrating the sheer number of incidents, DFES issued a total of 260 flood warnings between November 2016 and March 2017.

State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers across WA were kept busy responding to more than 600 requests for assistance for flood and storm damage for the same period. 

GREAT SOUTHERN

The Great Southern region dealt with its worst flooding in years. As heavy rain and wild weather lashed the area in early February, floodwater inundated towns, farms and cut off roads. 

In just five days, Ravensthorpe recorded 239 millimetres, Hopetoun 160 millimetres and Ongerup 165.4 millimetres of rain. 

Great Southern Superintendent Wayne Green said the amount of water and the ferocity of floods caught everyone by surprise despite preparations.

“It impacted the entire region from Katanning and Wagin in the north all the way down to Esperance,” Wayne said.

On Saturday 11 February the Phillips River and Jerdacuttup River bridges on the South Coast were destroyed by rampant floods, stranding a group of 15 travellers. DFES chartered a helicopter and lifted the group to safety.  

Wayne said widespread damage to the region’s road networks meant people were taking unnecessary risks. 

“When access to Esperance via the South Coast Highway was cut off people started trying to force their way through water. Just a small amount of flood water can wash your vehicle away - it’s not worth the risk.” 

Main Roads estimates fifty percent of roads in the Great Southern Region were damaged by floods. 

GOLDFIELDS MIDLANDS

Further north, in the Goldfields Midlands, heavy rain caused flooding in the Avon River Catchment including Mortlock River. On Friday 10 February people in East Northam were warned to prepare for possible evacuation due to inundation. 

Goldfields Midlands Superintendent Trevor Tasker said SES volunteers were crucial in their efforts to assist the community in Northam, York and Beverley.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Trevor said. 

“Thanks to their tenacity and hard work we were able to keep people safe.”

Widespread localised flooding meant every road in the region east of Kalgoorlie was inaccessible to traffic. 

In Kalgoorlie-Boulder emergency accommodation was erected for 80 residents from Tjuntjuntjara Aboriginal community who became stranded in town due to flooding. Access routes to Tjuntjuntjara, 550 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie, were cut off for up three weeks.

“We worked with contractors and volunteers from Kalgoorlie-Boulder SES to assist the community with emergency supplies after they got down to only four days’ worth of food and nearly ran out of fuel.”

PILBARA

In the Pilbara region persistent rain saturated rivers and floodways causing widespread flooding. The Great Northern Highway, the main arterial road connecting regional towns from Exmouth to Port Hedland was closed, stranding tourists and locals along the coast.

Pilbara Superintendent Peter McCarthy said people were taking unnecessary risks travelling through floodwaters, leading to an unprecedented number of rescues in the region. The Pilbara office worked with volunteers to coordinate five major rescues.

“As an example, we had to retrieve a couple and their three year old child near the De Grey River north of Marble Bar. They had been camping near the river and woke up on an island,” Trevor said. 

DFES coordinated the joint rescue with SES Port Hedland, the BHP Billiton rescue helicopter and staff from Muccan Station. Due to weather conditions, a small boat from the pastoral station eventually provided the best option to get the family out.

“I think the message is pretty clear – don’t camp near flooded rivers.”

KIMBERLEY

The Kimberley region dealt with its wettest summer on record. During January and early February two tropical lows dumped rain on already saturated catchments in the Kimberley, pushing the Fitzroy River close to major flood levels. 

The Great Northern Highway between Derby and Halls Creek and parts of Gibb River Road, as well as many shire roads, were closed.  Tragically, one man drowned in the Ord River after attempting to rescue a young girl from floodwaters. 

Between January and May, DFES organised 18 food and seven fuel resupplies to remote indigenous communities cut off by floodwaters, with assistance from Derby SES and Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services (VFES).

VFES Halls Creek Captain Kevin Eldridge said volunteers loaded up planes with several hundred tonnes of fuel and food each supply run, in what was a huge logistical undertaking. 

One of the biggest remote communities, Balgo, located near the Northern Territory border, was cut off from the outside world from mid-December to February. 

Balgo Chief Executive Officer Garry Elford said getting goods in, especially fuel for the generators, eventually became a problem.

“The Tanami Road was impassable and the powerhouse got down to only having a couple of weeks left of fuel. Luckily DFES brought in some drums for us in February to tide us over,” he said. 

Kimberley Superintendent Grant Pipe said none of the supply runs across WA would have been possible without the help of volunteers. 

“I would like to thank all our hard working volunteers for their efforts this season,” Grant said.

“Their commitment and willingness to assist the community is inspiring and impressive. We simply couldn’t have done it without them.” 

As the wet season wrapped up, DFES in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Goldfields Midlands were already preparing for the next.

“We will continue to work with remote communities to build greater capacity and contingency in an effort to reduce the impact on the community,” Grant said.​