"One-in-100-year flood event" devastates Western Australia

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Fitzroy River at Fitzroy Crossing on June 22, 2007.
Image: Zamphuor.

Aerial evacuations took place and food was airlifted in yesterday after a devastating flood Western Australia emergency services minister Stephen Dawson called the 'worst in a century' isolated communities in the Kimberley.

Flooding began last week after heavy rain from Tropical Cyclone Ellie swelled local rivers, bolstered by La Niña. Notably, the Fitzroy River broke a 2002 record of 13.95 meters (45.8 ft), reaching a water level of 15.81 meters (51.9 ft) on Wednesday, according to a Bureau of Meteorology spokesperson.

The Bureau today released a statement warning while the storm has moved eastward toward the Northern Territory, "record-breaking major flooding" continues in the Kimberley.

Authorities estimate it could take months to recover from what Dawson called "the worst flooding Western Australia has had in its history." While the extent of the damage is not yet known, parts of the Great Northern Highway have been shut, the bridge at Fitzroy Crossing closed and the airstrip inundated.

According to Reuters, among the hardest-hit is the town of Fitzroy Crossing, on the Fitzroy River after flooding created a 50 kilometers (31 mi) wide "inland sea", making roads there impassable.

By Saturday, 233 people had been evacuated from settlements across the Kimberley, which has a 50% aboriginal population, and Australian Defence Force helicopters airlifted approximately 3,000 kilograms (6,600 lbs) of food and supplies as weather has improved and the airstrip reopened. Five new helicopters will begin operations by Thursday, Reuters heard.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the flood as "devastating" and pledged federal assistance for the region. The Western Australian government has also announced a AU$3 million distress fund organized by Perth's Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas.