Permits no longer needed to enter Kalbarri, but locals disagree over whether the town is ready for visitors

Phoebe Pin & Ben O'SheaGeraldton Guardian
Cyclone damage at Kalbarri.
Camera IconCyclone damage at Kalbarri. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian, Iain Gillespie

As visitors start to trickle back into cyclone-devastated Kalbarri, residents and businesses are divided over whether it is too soon for the town to reopen.

Road blocks at Ajana-Kalbarri Road and George Grey Drive/Red Bluff Road preventing outsiders from entering Kalbarri were removed at 6pm yesterday, less than a month after ex-tropical cyclone Seroja caused damage to up to 70 per cent of the town’s buildings.

At a local business meeting on Sunday it was suggested reopening was still another four weeks away, but Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said now was the time for road blocks to be removed and the transition to the recovery phase to begin.

The town of Kalbarri was smashed by Tropical Cyclone Seroja.
Camera IconThe town of Kalbarri was smashed by Tropical Cyclone Seroja. Credit: Simon Hydzik/7NEWS/Simon Hydzik/7NEWS

He said there would be reduced capacity for tourists and visitors should consult tourism operators and accommodation providers before departure.

“No one should visit Kalbarri without prior confirmation of their accommodation arrangements and we also recommend that people do not visit simply to inspect the damage caused by tropical cyclone Seroja.

“It is critically important that as visitors return to Kalbarri and surrounds, they do so in a safe and sensible manner — we do not want further pressure placed on local emergency services after an extremely busy period.”

Northampton shire president and Kalbarri local Craig Simkin told The West Live that tourism operators in the town simply could not remain cut off from the rest of the State any longer.

Mr Simkin said there was still widespread damage and the town would be “heavily patrolled” by police officers — so visitors won’t be able to “rubberneck around”.

Murchison View Apartments manager Chris Box said while the accommodation provider would be at reduced capacity, they were ready to welcome tourists.

“From a business point of view, we want to get people into the town,” she said.

“We just need people to come now and they have made the town safe so that can happen.

The sooner you get people in the faster the town will recover

Ms Box said emergency service personnel had been “flat out” removing debris from streets.

“Our verges are cleaned the lawns have been mowed so it is actually quite exciting seeing everything getting finished,” she said.

Angie’s Cafe has been providing hundreds of meals to emergency service crews and locals.

But owner Angie Krakouer said now was not the time for visitors.

“We are definitely not ready to accept visitors because of a lack of accommodation and a lack of venues open because they have all been damaged by the cyclone,” she said.

Ms Krakouer said she was fortunate her business was able to continue to generate income while road blocks were in place, but worried she would not be able to meet demand if tourists came in large numbers.

“We are still feeding the emergency services, we have been flat off our feet catering for that,” she said.

“I really don’t need the extra workload ... we have been doing 187 meals just for the emergency services and that’s not including the locals.”

Community meeting in Kalbarri after the cyclone.
Camera IconCommunity meeting in Kalbarri after the cyclone. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian, Simon Santi

Kalbarri resident Rose Ralph owns two local businesses — the Kalbarri Fish N Chips and Kalbarri Rock Lobster Tours and Charters — and said she was in two minds about the reopening.

“The town won’t get back up on its feet until people can come and business can start operating,” she said.

“I can see that is probably a good thing, but I also felt it was a bit premature because people are still really emotional and they feel very vulnerable having people come into town.

“Even me I am probably not quite ready ... people will maybe want to ask questions that you don’t really want to talk about.”

Mrs Ralph said it was the uncertainty of how many people would be coming into the town that concerned locals the most.

“People are scared of the unknown and that all of a sudden 10,000 people are going to be in town,” she said.

The fish and chip shop opened several days after the cyclone and Mrs Ralph said they would be operating rock lobster tours as soon as their storm damaged boat was repaired.

She said her businesses could survive without tourist income for a while longer, but not all local businesses were in the same position.

“We would survive, I just worry for the businesses that aren’t hugely well-placed financially,” she said.

“Some people are saying we should be closed off for six months, but the businesses won’t be here by then.

“I think the business owners were looking more for a grant rather than opening straight away.”

At time of print, more than 400 people had signed an online petition opposing the reopening.

Organiser Fleur Beere said she had started the petition to give people an opportunity to voice their concerns.

“We are not ready physically, emotionally and it is not safe,” she said.

Kalbarri is our home first, and a tourist spot second

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