One year of rain in one day

Jayne Rickard, Gabrielle Knowles and Belle TaylorThe West Australian
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Almost a year’s worth of rain dumped on Carnarvon in 24 hours has caused the town’s worst-ever flood, devastating crops, drowning cattle, submerging properties and leaving people homeless.

The rain began on Thursday and by 9am on Friday the Gascoyne town had received 207.8mm — just 18.9mm less than the yearly average of 226.7mm.

The Gascoyne River had risen to 7.68m under Nine Mile Bridge late yesterday and was still rising slowly, beating the previous flood level of 7.61m in 1960.

Authorities said the extent of losses was unlikely to be known until the waters receded but would probably run into millions of dollars.

Residents spent last night bunkered down after a 12-hour operation involving dozens of volunteers and helicopters rescued 36 people stranded on Gascoyne Junction properties as rushing waters cut off homes.

About a dozen people spent Saturday night camped on their roofs as they waited for help.

Last night, the town’s emergency welfare and evacuation centre was looking after 100 displaced people — mostly travellers — who were either sleeping on the floor or staying in four-wheel-drives and caravans in the carpark.

The evacuation centre at the Carnarvon Civic Centre was bustling all day, with food, drinks, movies and a place to rest on offer for anyone needing help.

The Department for Child Protection was co-ordinating the centre with assistance from Red Cross and CWA volunteers.

Shire president Dudley Maslen said last night the levee was holding around the town but outside it was chaos.

“There’s huge destruction, ” he said. “People have lost homes and many growers have lost ground crops such as melons and pumpkins. If they haven’t been washed away, they’re rotting in the paddocks because they’re being inundated.”

Grapes were being ruined on the vines, Mr Maslen said.

“It will probably cost some of the big operators millions, ” he said. “It’s pretty devastating out there.”

Fire and Emergency Services Authority’s Les Hayter said many buildings in Gascoyne Junction had been flooded.

Several Gascoyne Junction residents were rescued by helicopter yesterday after spending a cold night stranded on roofs and nervously watching the water rise.

Mr Hayter said a fixed-wing plane was used to transport another six people across the river after they were trapped near Meka Station, north of Yalgoo.

State Emergency Service staff in Carnarvon spent the weekend in a boat checking on those isolated by floodwaters.

They also reinforced levee banks, monitored water levels and transported people and equipment around the town.

Mr Hayter said the re-supply phase would start today, with food and water being dropped to communities in the Gascoyne catchment cut off by the flood.

The deluge has turned outlying streets into rivers and forced road closures, including part of the North West Coastal Highway and the road to the airport.

A Horizon Power spokesman said power had been cut to about 200 Carnarvon residences for safety reasons.

In Gascoyne Junction, flooding had cut power supply to the north of the area.

Mr Maslen said everyone in the town had worked well together.

Yesterday many had been desperately shoring up levee banks and stockpiling soil in a bid to halt the rising waters.

The Weather Bureau said the rain had eased, although a few showers were expected over the next few days.

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