Cyclone Veronica flooding hits pastoralists in Pilbara as land stricken by drought is inundated

Updated March 27, 2019 18:38:18

Michael Thompson had become used to seeing his cattle struggle through drought. But seeing his animals drown in the aftermath of the strongest cyclone to hit WA in years has tested the limits of his resolve.

Key points:

  • Cyclone Veronica has pummelled the Pilbara coast for several days
  • Land which hadn’t seen rain for almost a year has been inundated with flooding
  • Pastoralists are expecting big losses as cattle get swept up in the water

Returning to Munda Station, south of Port Hedland, in the aftermath of Cyclone Veronica brought with it the sight of flooded plains and cattle bogged in mud.

The property was hit by hundreds of millimetres of rainfall during the cyclone which lashed the Pilbara coastline over the weekend.

While Mr Thompson said it was too early to put a figure on the stock losses, the station — which has been struggling through dry conditions and feed shortages — was hit hard.

“You see them starving and you see them drowning. What’s worse? I don’t know,” he said.

“… They’re probably the heaviest losses that I’ve seen in the coast country because there’s no protection for them from the elements, and the water is so high and they get bogged.”

“[We’ll be] dragging them out today.”

Mr Thompson broke down when he said it was the worst losses the property had seen for nearly two decades.

“I’m a positive person I’m trying to see the positives out of a setback, but this is probably the worst we’ve been beat up for a long time, you know 18 years or something since we got flogged last time,” he said.

“You’ve got to take the hit on the chin. You’ve just got to deal with it.

“And I’m not dealing with it too well at the moment.”

Months of no rain compounds flooding impact

It comes on the back of a difficult season for farmers in WA’s north.

Mr Thompson said the station had not seen any rain since May 2018, and that the dry season had now compounded the cyclone’s effect.

“The cows [had] been dealing with it well,” he said.

“And they can’t go on forever, but I suppose two days of endless rain, and endless 80-kilometre-per-hour winds took its toll and weakened them.

“And two days without feed has made them weaker.

“We’ll chopper everyone out and try and save what we can, and I suppose we’re going to have to euthanise everything we can’t, and deal with that and see what we can do.”

System downgraded but warnings remain

Cyclone Veronica was downgraded to a tropical low on Tuesday, after pummelling the Pilbara coast line for several days.

The Army was called in to evacuate homes near Port Hedland, which had been cut off by rising floodwaters.

A flood warning is current for Pilbara Coastal Rivers catchments.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said heavy rainfall associated with Cyclone Veronica was causing significant stream level rises and widespread flooding.

More than 448 millimetres of rainfall was recorded at Carraba in the 72 hours to 11:00am on Tuesday.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services advised people and communities to be aware that flooding was possible, and be prepared to relocate equipment and livestock.

Fresh food in short supply

Towns in the Kimberley are running low on fresh food after flooding severely damaged the only road linking the region to the rest of the state.

Large chunks of asphalt on Great Northern Highway near the De Grey River crossing have washed away.

Main Roads WA spokesman Peter Sewell said crews were working on a temporary fix to get the road reopened.

“We will escort the road trains who are carrying essential services to Broome and beyond through that section tonight,” he said.

“If it’s not possible, it will be tomorrow (Thursday) morning at first light.”

Woolworths said in a statement it had 10 trucks ready to replenish its Kimberley stores with fresh food and groceries as soon as roads reopened.

Mr Sewell said it could be days before general traffic was allowed through.

He also urged people to obey road closure signs after authorities had to rescue people from at least two cars and one truck after they became stuck in floodwater.

“I’ve seen it time and time again, where people do this and get caught,” he said.

“It’s just very foolish.”

Topics: rural, disasters-and-accidents, cyclones, weather, cyclone, livestock, beef-cattle, port-hedland-6721, wa

First posted March 27, 2019 14:53:32

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