Cyclone Debbie: A monster on the horizon

CYCLONE DEBBIE: No help for those who refuse to evacuate

THERE will be no assistance given to people who call for help after ignoring warnings to leave low-lying coastal areas of the Burdekin Shire ahead of Cyclone Debbie.

The message from the Burdekin Shire Council yesterday was that anyone who ignores warnings to leave and then calls for help while the cyclone is raging will be on their own until conditions settle down and it is safe for emergency service workers to venture out of doors.

Police went to a number of areas yesterday warning residents of the danger they faced if they those to stay in storm surge prone areas.

The Burdekin's main towns of Ayr, Home Hill and Giru, as well as its coastal satellite villages and inland farming districts of Clare and Millaroo, were bracing yesterday for what is expected to be a highly destructive Category 4 cyclone.


Late yesterday Cyclone Debbie was expected to cross the coast just to the south of Ayr at about 4am tomorrow .

The arrival of the cyclone will coincide with a high tide of 3.6m, increasing the risk of dangerous tidal surges. A Burdekin Shire Council spokesman said anyone who ignored directives to leave low-lying coastal areas such as parts of Rita Island, Alva Beach, Wunjunga and Groper Creek would not be offered any assistance by emergency services.

Yesterday a number of people at the low-lying Cungulla community at the mouth of the Haughton River in the Townsville City Council area were electing to stay.

It was the same at the Burdekin Shire's Groper Creek village in the Burdekin delta east of Home Hill.

Burdekin Shire Council Deputy Mayor John Woods urged those thinking of staying to reconsider.

"They might get through the cyclone, but it is the storm surge we are worried about. There are big tides Tuesday morning and I remember in Cyclone Aivu in 1989 when 40 houses were washed away in the storm surge at Wunjunga (just south of Home Hill). One person drowned in the storm surge at Molongle Creek near Gumlu, about 45km south of Home Hill," he said.


Burdekin Mayor Lyn McLaughlin said evacuation direction notifications were handed to residents in areas vulnerable to storm surge yesterday. The notifications do not make evacuation compulsory, but Cr McLaughlin said this could change if the situation worsened.

Cr McLaughlin said a safe haven called the Burdekin Place of Refuge would be available to people who chose to evacuate their homes and had nowhere else to go. The refuge is at the Ayr Showground and will be open from 8am today.

"This is a short-term shelter option and only has basic facilities," she said.

Cr McLaughlin stressed that people who chose to stay in high risk areas would have to survive on their own during the cyclone. "During the lockdown phase of the cyclone none of the emergency services will be responding to calls for assistance," she said.

But, while the authorities appealed to people to heed the warnings about the threat to human life, there were still people up and down the low-lying parts of the coast who were settling in yesterday to 'ride it out'.

At Cungulla, Nigel Ellerton was downing a few 'coldies' in the backyard while chatting to Elise Mackenzie.

"No, we're going to stay. There's plenty of beer and baked beans," he said.

Neighbour John Resoort and his wife Christine were also intending to stay put.

"I got all my life here. My tools, everything. If I leave the scavengers will steal it like they do after disasters. I'll roll up my Broncos' flag so it don't blow away," he said.

All was calm in the Burdekin's flood central township of Giru. Katie Stapleton, the English backpacker pulling beers behind the bar, said a safety plan was in place.

"Yes, there is a plan for our safety, but you never know I might end up in the cold room," she joked.

Outside the Giru pub a large group of revellers from the Townsville Restored Motorcycle Club were on the last leg of a 40th anniversary run.

"We'll go home and put the bikes away," club member Shane Cavill said.

At Groper Creek where residents build high ramps on which to park their cars and boats during floods, Neil and Judy Kennedy were about to hitch up their house boat and head off to Innisfail with their bulldog, Roy, on the back seat.

"We've packed the house up and taken as much as we can upstairs. We want to get everything we can out of the flood if the surge comes in," Mr Kennedy said.

"There's quite a few people that are staying here."

Margaret Wood, 70, was staying on her own because she didn't want to leave the house and have someone else go to the trouble of cleaning it up.

"My son from Townsville wanted to come and get me, but I feel staying here is something I have to do. If anything happens to the house it falls to my neighbours to fix it if I'm not here. I don't want that to happen," she said.

Mrs Wood said she had enough bottled water and tinned food to see her through what will be inevitable power outages during and after the cyclone and the long days that follow when Groper Creek almost certainly will be cut off from the rest of the world.

Generators were one of the most sought after items in the Burdekin yesterday.

One car enthusiast's shop sold its one dozen generators soon after opening its doors on Saturday.

A spokesman at Bunnings in Townsville said people from the Burdekin were driving to the city's stores looking for generators.-

News Corp Australia

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