Friday 22 March 2019

Trevor and Veronica: double trouble

Cyclone Trevor prompts mass evacuation from NT communities as it heads across Gulf

A Google Earth weather map of Cyclone Trevor.
Cyclone Trevor could reach the strength of a category four storm by the time it hits the NT coast.

22 March, 2019

A state of emergency has been declared in the Northern Territory as Cyclone Trevor tracks across the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner says.

The NT has begun the largest mass evacuation since Cyclone Tracy in 1974, with Trevor expected to strengthen to a category four or five system as it moves west across the Gulf.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) began flying residents from Groote Eylandt — which has now been placed on a cyclone warning — and Borroloola to Darwin on Thursday, after transporting residents into the city on Wednesday.

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Jamison told ABC Local Radio the ADF was "prepared to evacuate a couple of thousand [people] in support of the Government".

"At the moment we've got four aircraft in the air … in the last 24 hours there's been hundreds of people involved in the planning, from Northern Territory Government, the local Defence Force personnel up here in Darwin, also Defence headquarters down in Canberra," he said.

Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services incident controller Hege Burns said local charter companies and Airnorth evacuated about 220 of Groote Eylandt's 1,600 residents on Wednesday, and the ADF would continue to ramp up those efforts.

A statement from the Northern Territory Government from 4:15pm Thursday said Groote Eylandt has been partially evacuated, "with this process now being suspended due to the latest Bureau of Meteorology advice indicating that the cyclone will not directly impact the island". 

"Groote Eylandt is expected to feel some effects of the cyclone including destructive winds, heavy rainfall and abnormally high tides," it said.

"Evacuations are continuing in Borroloola and Numbulwar, including Port McArthur, McArthur River Mine, Cape Crawford and Port Roper.
"Shelters in Ngukurr will be opening [on Friday]."

Borroloola under severe threat

Of Borroloola's population of about 2,000, the ADF has begun flying residents out while many others have evacuated by road.

At dawn yesterday, nine buses were due to bring residents from the coastal community of Numbulwar to Katherine, and buses continued to run throughout the day.

In the Gulf town of Borroloola, residents were frantically trying to evacuate, with people lined up at the fuel station with their cars packed with their most precious possessions.

People also started queuing at the police station to register to be airlifted out.

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Evacuations underway as Cyclone Trevor approaches Territory

Trevor could hit as a category five

The current NT cyclone watch area is thought to be home to about 10,000 people, with about 5,000 in the most at-risk area from Groote Eylandt to Borroloola.

Emergency services are ensuring the most vulnerable residents are evacuated, while those who have the means are being allowed to get themselves out.

The cyclone's core is predicted to cross the south-western coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria between Groote Eylandt and Borroloola on Saturday.

BOM forecaster Gabriel Brenescu said Trevor would intensify quickly and could develop into a category five system over the next one to two days.
"We have it at category two back early in the morning, 9:00am or so, and then increasing or strengthening to upper categories — three, four, even a category five is possible," he said.
"Once in the open waters the system will expand, it will grow in size … it's unusual for the Gulf of Carpentaria, but it'll be such a big system and such a strong system."

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Air Force evacuates Groote Eylandt ahead of Cyclone Trevor

Winds, rain intensifying

Overnight, Trevor lashed communities on Queensland's Cape York with powerful gusts and heavy rain.

BOM said wind gusts higher than 130 kilometres per hour could develop between the Cape York towns of Weipa and Aurukun as the system strengthened.

Falls of more than 173 millimetres were recorded at RAAF Base Scherger, near Weipa.

Cape York resident Jayson Watkin said the cyclone completely trashed the small fishing village of Portland Roads, about 40 kilometres north of Lockhart River.

"I just spent all day yesterday and a couple of hours this morning chain-sawing my way down the driveway until I finally got the four-wheeler down the hill," Mr Watkin said.

"I went and checked a couple of neighbours and they've been trashed, some of the houses in town have windows blown out and all that sort of stuff."

The cyclone made landfall as a category three on the eastern Cape York Peninsula earlier this week.

Mr Watkin said the main access road to Lockhart River, which he uses to buy groceries, was cut-off for the foreseeable future, with chainsaw work needed to open it again.

"I don't know what the immediate future is going to be for us, we're going to run out of supplies soon so that could get a bit frantic," he said.

Minimal structural damage

Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher said his house was the only one to be damaged by the cyclone.

"Structural damage has been pretty minimum, which we're pretty surprised with, a lot of trees went down and a lot of trees have basically got no leaf or no bark standing on it," Mr Butcher said.

"The ironic part of it is the only roof that was damaged was the Mayor's."

Mr Butcher said it was a rough night as the cyclone passed south of the town.

"I've got a two-storey house, so I had rain coming in through the windows horizontally and then I had a leaking vertically and I moved downstairs and it eventually came through the floor," he said.

Ergon Energy crews were conducting emergency network repairs to restore power to Lockhart River, where about 100 homes had lost power. About 180 homes were without power at Aurukun.

The heavy rainfall and gale force winds have also impacted other parts of Far North Queensland, with a land slip at Barron Gorge bringing down trees and boulders.

Douglas Shire Council has warned residents not to cross flooded roads and bridges after rapid river and creek rises in the past 24 hours.

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