Gascoyne flood: Dozens saved as region braces for ‘one in ten year flood’

Joe Spagnolo, Lisa Favazzo and Elise Van AkenThe West Australian
Flooding around Carnarvon as seen from the air.
Camera IconFlooding around Carnarvon as seen from the air. Credit: Coral Coast Helicopter Service/YouTube

Up to 40 people have been rescued from flood waters in WA’s Gascoyne region after a tropical low moved over the region, overwhelming it with heavy rains.

The weather event has been dubbed a “one in ten year flood” with water levels expected to reach 7.1 metres at Nine Mile Bridge.

DFES Mid West Gascoyne Superintendent Craig Smith said the region hadn’t experienced a river of that height since 2013.

He said further impact to the road network was also expected, which had already sustained significant damage.

“There will be some areas that will become isolated because of rising flood water, but we are aware of who they are, and people have prepared early for it,” Supt Smith said.

The Nine Mile Bridge at Gascoyne River at 10:30 am.
Camera IconThe Nine Mile Bridge at Gascoyne River at 10:30 am. Credit: Katie Thoars/Supplied

Josh Barr, 18, was among rescued by helicopter yesterday. Hailing from Dunsborough, he was only two weeks into a stint working at the road house.

He said the river was bone dry when he arrived. He would never have guessed he would be wading through knee deep water only a couple of short weeks later.

“I left a few things behind. I just didn’t want to get stuck there,” he said.

Gascoyne floodwaters trapping motorists as choppers move in.
Camera IconGascoyne floodwaters trapping motorists as choppers move in. Credit: ABC/Rob Minson

The town of Carnarvon has also experienced heavy rain, with streets and backyards quickly filling with water - and locals making the most of the otherwise dire situation.

Ashley Nencki and his son Blake playing in the Carnarvon floods yesterday.
Camera IconAshley Nencki and his son Blake playing in the Carnarvon floods yesterday. Credit: Supplied

The rising Gascoyne river is testing Carnarvon’s newer flood mitigation network which was installed in 2013 in the wake of a devastating flood earlier in the decade.

With the river not expected to reach a peak until late this afternoon, much to the town is already inundated with murky orange water.

Member for North West Central Vince Catania said it was too early to tell the extent of the damage, but that the levy system was slowing down the force of the water rushing through the town.

He said there was already damage to infrastructure and property.

“This is nowhere near as bad as 2010,” he added.

The Nine Mile Bridge at Gascoyne River at 10:30 am.
Camera IconThe Nine Mile Bridge at Gascoyne River at 10:30 am. Credit: Katie Thoars/Supplied

Mr Catania, who spoke just after disembarking helicopter in Carnarvon from which he was assessing the damage, has urged the State Government to declare the Carnarvon floods a natural disaster.

“We need the Government to declare an actual disaster which will unlock more needed resources for the recovery,” he said.

“Right now the people affected are not eligible for any financial assistance and the sooner this happens the better.

“I don’t know what’s holding the Government back from doing this, I don’t know what feedback they’re receiving but it’s been coming for a while even though the worst of it has been today.”

Josh Barr's trip to Carnarvon from Minilya Roadhouse With Coral Coast Helicopter Service yesterday.
Camera IconJosh Barr's trip to Carnarvon from Minilya Roadhouse With Coral Coast Helicopter Service yesterday. Credit: Josh Barr/Supplied

He said there are issues with food supply at supermarkets, while many residents are stranded in their homes without power or clean running water.

The flooding was in the plantations and caravan parks – but not the town of Carnarvon, with the shire having built a levy bank along Boundary Road about 4km out of town for protection.

The North West Coastal Highway has been washed away at Minilya, north of Carnarvon.
Camera IconThe North West Coastal Highway has been washed away at Minilya, north of Carnarvon. Credit: Rob Minson / ABC/Rob Minson / ABC

Several parts of the town are experiencing a blackout, with a Horizon Power spokesperson saying they could not give a timeline for when the service would be up and running again.

Both the Shire of Carnarvon and Horizon Power has called on people to stop driving through the water, as it could put people at risk of electrocution and damage flood mitigation measures.

Mr Catania is no stranger to flooding in the north, having been the local member back when the 2010 floods take place. 

Back then, the Gascoyne River rose 7.8m. 

“The road going north, out of Carnarvon, and south, has been shut off and could be shut off for 10 days,” Mr Catania said. 

“The issue is: once the water subsides what is the damage? 

“So, it’s a nervous wait to see the full impact of this. 

“With the already shortage of workers to be able to plant and pick produce, this is going to make it even more difficult. 

“The clean-up, once the river subsides, will take a lot of workers to assist.” 

The Nine Mile Bridge at Gascoyne River at 10:30 am.
Camera IconThe Nine Mile Bridge at Gascoyne River at 10:30 am. Credit: Katie Thoars/Supplied

Mr Catania said many plantations had been inundated by water from the 7.1 metre high river, but the extent of the damage to the crops would depend on how long the plantations stayed under water. 

“This is where government needs to help in things like replacing the top soil of the plantations and offering financial assistance to the farmers,” he said. 

Carnarvon Flood pictures taken by Nationals MP Vince Catania.
Camera IconCarnarvon Flood pictures taken by Nationals MP Vince Catania. Credit: Vince Catania Facebook

He said ruined crops would affect supply at supermarkets throughout the state. 

“They (plantations) supply Perth’s winter crop, from zucchinis, to cucumbers to pumpkins to avocados, to bananas,” he said. 

In 2010 the cost of mangoes, grapes, rockmelons, butternut pumpkins and capsicums skyrocketed and stock on shelves was in short supply when hundreds of tons of Carnarvon crops worth millions of dollars were lost.

Trays of mangoes jumped 30 per cent in price, from $35 to $50 at one retailer, while grapes jumped up to $19.98.

Carnarvon seedless watermelons hit $1.20/kg, up from 80¢ a kilogram and rockmelon soared from $16 to $32 a carton. 

The Gascoyne River gauging station has recorded a height of 6.94m, however flood waters are still inundating roads.

Supplies of bananas next week will ride on the condition of North West Coastal Highway, with the crop expected to largely survive the Carnarvon floods.

Sweeter Banana Co-operative business manager Doriana Mangili said bananas tended to do better in floods than other crops.

“Some properties have had water through, but not anywhere near the levels seen in 2010,” she said.

“The Sweeter Banana packing shed hasn’t gone underwate, so our biggest concern is that the road to down south is opened.

“There will be some losses and damage, but biggest impact will be if the road down south is open to trucks early next week.

“We won’t know the condition of roads until water subsides.”

Retired Carnarvon banana farmer of over 40 years Bruce Munro, who’s property is harvested by Sweeter Banana, said the town’s levee bank system which was installed after the 2010 flood had been successful in saving crops from the floods. 

“It’s a major event but we’re holding up pretty good,” he said.

“We’re on the south side of the river and it is flowing fast.

“I’ve been here since the 1980’s and experienced plenty of these, this is definitely not the best but nothing compares to 2010.

“Personally I think it’s one of the better floods, the new levee system has done very well.

“We copped a fair bit of wind when the system went past and a few bunches and trees have fallen over, mainly around the edges.

“As soon as everything dies down we’ll be straight back into cutting, most growers will be in the same situation. As long as we can get them to Perth.

“I don’t think there will be much interruptions to bananas if any.”

In the 24 hours to 9.00am Saturday, no significant rainfall has been recorded in the catchment. No significant rainfall is forecast for the remainder of Saturday and into Sunday.

DFES is working closely with the Department of Communities who have provided accommodation for 35 people who were airlifted to safety by the RAC Rescue helicopter yesterday.

The Department of Communities has set up an evacuation centre at The Wool Shed on Camel Lane in Carnarvon.

SES has received 14 requests for assistance in the Midwest Gascoyne over the past 24 hours.

The Gascoyne River at Nine Mile Bridge was at 7.04m and steady at 2pm, but is likely to have risen to 7.1m by now and is expected to remain above the moderate flood level (6.50m) today.

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