A tropical cyclone has torn through towns, forcing people to cower in unusual places to stay safe. Residents say the area looks like a bomb blast.
No lives were lost when a fierce tropical cyclone hit tourist towns in Western Australia, but the recovery cost is expected to cost many millions of dollars after areas were left looking like war zones.
One man did die in Coral Bay over the weekend, but authorities are still trying to work out whether it was linked to the cyclone.
“He was electrocuted as a consequence of a power pole issue … it’s obviously a very tragic event,” Premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Monday.
“The good news is no major injuries or death have been reported in the last 24 hours (when the cyclone hit).”
Mr McGowan said the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Seroja, which brought wind gusts of up to 170km/h, was “widespread and severe”.
“We are thinking of all those people who have lost homes, their livelihoods or suffered serious damage to their properties,” he said.
Mr McGowan said it was too early to know the full extent of the damage, but Karratha and Northampton were the worst hit areas.
Up to 70 per cent of properties in Kalbarri had been damaged, which Mr McGowan described as “heartbreaking”.
“We have started the process of activating the disaster relief funding arrangement with the commonwealth and I have been in communication with the Prime Minister,” he said.
Tropical Cyclone Seroja made landfall on Sunday evening, just south of Kalbarri, as a category 3 storm.
Many locals took to social media to reveal their makeshift shelters as the terrifying eye of the storm approached.
One person said they were hiding in a walk-in wardrobe, while a couple and their dog took refuge in a pantry.
Some homes were completely decimated, while wild weather also tore part of the roof off the popular dolphin-watching resort Monkey Mia, and a section of the One Mile Jetty in Carnavon was destroyed.
Northampton Shire president Craig Simkin told NCA NewsWire that the cyclone “wreaked havoc”.
“There’s debris everywhere,” he said.
Deputy president Shane Krakouer, who is also an electrician, said it was the first time he had experienced such devastation.
“It was one-and-a-half hours (of severe storms) … some houses are totally destroyed,” he told NCA NewsWire.
Mr Krakouer said it looked like a bomb had gone off in the town.
“Everywhere you stop and look all you see is destruction – roofs rolled up on the street,” he said.
“The whole town needs rebuilding around here … it’s going to take a long time.”
Mr Krakouer said cafes had been flooded, and even the local police station was “not looking too good”.
About 31,500 customers are without power, including in Geraldton, Kalbarri, Northampton, Dongara, Port Denison and Mullewa.
“Power returning may be a matter of days rather than hours, given the significant damage to infrastructure across a very wide area,” Mr McGowan said.
A red alert remains in place for the townsite of Northampton.
“There is still a threat to lives and homes,” the Department of Fire and Emergency Services warned.
“DFES is conducting assessments on the ground to identify hazards to ensure the safety of the community.”
The all clear has been given to other areas south of Carnarvon to Lancelin, but DFES warns people should remain cautious.
The last time Geraldton experienced such intense winds from a tropical cyclone was in 1956 when a wind gust of 140 km/h was recorded.
Winds in Kalbarri and nearby areas were likely to have been the strongest in more than 50 years, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Emergency services have answered more than 270 calls for help, with most coming from Kalbarri, Northampton and Horrocks.
Western Power says 65 power feeders have been affected north of Three Springs as well as the distribution network across the Mid West region.
“Power cannot be restored until crews have inspected the lines, which will only be safe after the red alert has been lifted by DFES and conditions permit it,” Western Power said on Monday.
“We’re expecting reports of damage to increase as the day unfolds and will continue reassessing and prioritising restoration work as it becomes safe to so.
“Helicopter patrols will commence once conditions are safe which will help identify and prioritise fault areas.
“Our top priority will be to make hazards safe, then restore power as quickly as possible.”
Landline phones and mobile networks have also been disrupted due to damage.
Three evacuation centres have been set up but many roads remain closed, and people are being urged not to drive through floodwaters.
Ex-tropical cyclone Seroja has now weakened into a tropical low and has moved offshore, southeast of Esperance.
Originally, the cyclone event off the West Australian coast threatened to produce two systems.
Odette, which was initially a tropical low, formed into a tropical cyclone after the two systems circled each other over the Indian Ocean on Thursday.
It is known as the Fujiwhara effect.
Odette was downgraded to an ex-tropical cyclone on Saturday.
Maximum wind gusts:
Meanarra Tower (near Kalbarri) 170km/h
Binnu West 139km/h
Geraldton Airport 120km/h
Rainfall since 9am Sunday:
Meanarra Tower 166.8mm
Binnu West 75.6mm