‘Distressing deaths’: Impossible to know how many cattle have died in Fitzroy Crossing floods

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Cattle in flooding at Fitzroy Crossing.
Camera IconCattle in flooding at Fitzroy Crossing. Credit: Jaye Bedford / Facebook/Jaye Bedford / Facebook

WA Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson says the true extent of “distressing” stock losses on Kimberley stations won’t be known until floodwaters inundating Fitzroy Crossing have cleared.

Hundreds of cattle are believed to have perished in floodwaters that have inundated the small town of Fitzroy Crossing in the central Kimberley during the past three days.

Mr Dawson said a number of pastoral properties had been impacted by the floods, with stations recording hundreds of millimetres of rain as a result of ex tropical cyclone Ellie — which made landfall two weeks ago but has caused huge falls this week.

Cattle and kangaroos have been photographed taking refuge on high ground as the “once in 100 year floods” sweep through the Kimberley, destroying roads and buildings.

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A video posted to Facebook by Fitzroy Crossing resident Jaye Bedford showed cattle struggling to swim while being washed downstream in the Fitzroy River, which has peaked at its highest level on record at 15.75m.

Cattle in flooding at Fitrzoy Crossing.
Camera IconCattle in flooding at Fitrzoy Crossing. Credit: Jaye Bedford / Facebook/Jaye Bedford / Facebook

The river level has peaked at 15.75m, which is 1.8m higher than ever before.

Mr Dawson said he was in talks with the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association and WA Agriculture Minister Jackie Jarvis to determine what disaster relief funding or other assistance pastoralists needed.

“Many of the roads to outlying stations are open… and people will be able to drive into Kununurra once fruit and vegetables are there,” he said.

“Once we know the extent of the damage we can work out what needs to be replaced… roads are key but there will be houses and infrastructure damage.

“We have seen images of animals floating down the river… it is distressing to see.”

During a press conference on Wednesday, it was revealed the river’s flow rate is about 60,000 cubic litres per second — one of the highest flow rates ever seen in Australian rivers — with more water flowing to the ocean each day than what Perth uses in 20 years.

It is normally about 8000 cubic litres per second, with the Bureau of Meteorology saying the flow rate and river level had smashed 50 years’ worth of records.

The deluge has caused a partial collapse of the Fitzroy River Bridge, a key piece of infrastructure on the Great Northern Highway.

While Mr Dawson said the bridge hadn’t completely collapsed, there had been damage.

“Main Roads have indicated they won’t be able to inspect the bridge until the water level drops substantially…. they will put in some divers to inspect the bridge,” he said.

The bumper falls and are likely to add fuel to pastoralists’ calls to tap into the Fitzroy River catchment for irrigation to grow pasture and fatten cattle year-round.

The main bridge connecting Fitzroy Crossing and the rest of the Kimberley has been wiped out by the floods.
Camera IconThe main bridge connecting Fitzroy Crossing and the rest of the Kimberley has been wiped out by the floods. Credit: Supplied/Andrea Myers

A 2018 report by the CSIRO revealed 1700GL of surface water could be taken from the Fitzroy River each year, and that 16,000ha of agricultural land could be unlocked.

It also revealed the investment in dams and water infrastructure would deliver more than 5000 jobs and create an agricultural hub worth more than $1.1 billion.

About 370 hectares has been put to irrigated pasture in the Kimberley so far, using ground and surface water.

The risk of the system moving across the ocean and becoming a tropical cyclone again has been labelled low.

Conditions are expected to ease in the Broome area on Thursday, and are expected to ease on Friday, before the system crosses into the Northern Territory during the weekend.

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