1998 Katherine floods
||It has been suggested that this article be merged into Cyclone Les (1998). (Discuss) Proposed since January 2016.|
|Date||25 January – 3 February 1998|
|Location||Katherine and surrounds, Daly River|
|Deaths||3 dead, 30 injured|
|Property damage||A$200 million (estimate)|
The 1998 Katherine floods began in January 1998 affecting the town of Katherine, Northern Territory Australia. As floodwaters continued downstream the community of Daly River was entirely inundated. The water continued to rise into early February. The floods killed three and caused widespread damage to infrastructure and local industry. The estimated damages from the flood totalled $200 million. The 1998 flood is classified as a 1 in 200 to 1 in 500-year event and is the largest flood on record to affect both Katherine and Daly River.
On 24 January 1998 a low pressure system over the Gulf of Carpentaria developed into Tropical Cyclone Les. The cyclone moved westward towards the Northern Territory coast, weakening and from cyclone strength into a rain depression as it travelled inland towards the catchments of the Katherine, Roper and Daly rivers. Between 25 and 27 January, 448 mm (17.6 in) rain was recorded as falling in the Katherine River catchment. On Australia Day, 26 January, roads north and south from Katherine were closed due to rising floodwaters, and Royal Australian Air Force personnel from RAAF Base Tindal joined local police and emergency services to assist with sandbagging critical infrastructure. Some 5000 residents were evacuated as an estimated 500 businesses and 1200 homes were inundated by floodwaters, including the Katherine District Hospital. Many evacuees were accommodated in three evacuation centres, Katherine High School, MacFarlane Primary School and the newly constructed Casuarina Street School which was due to open in February. At 6am on 27 January, a State of Emergency was declared in Katherine. The floodwaters peaked at 20.4 m (67 ft) at the Katherine railway bridge at 4.30pm, passing the previous record of 19.3m during major flooding in 1957.
On 28 January, floodwaters at the community of Daly River, approximately 200 km (120 mi) downstream from Katherine had risen above 11.5m and would continue to rise to a peak of 16.8 m (55 ft) on 3 February as water from the catchments fed through tributaries to the Daly River. Around 400 people, the entire population of the community was evacuated by air to Batchelor and every building subject to flooding. Chief Minister Shane Stone declared Katherine, Daly River and outlying communities to be a Disaster area on 28 January.
Impact and aftermath
During the flood emergency, the only road access between Darwin and the rest of Australia was impassable for five days. Additionally, infrastructure in Katherine was damaged, leaving the town without power for several days, interrupting telecommunications and radio broadcasts. Drainage and sewerage systems failed, leading to an outbreak of gastroenteritis. When the flood waters receded, priority was given to making critical facilities such as the hospital operational once again, with 300 additional Australian Defence Force personnel arriving to assist with the clean-up.
Through the Appropriation (Flood Relief) Bill (1998) the Northern Territory Government released $10 million of funds for immediate flood relief. It was estimated at this time that at least $30 million would be required for capital works reconstruction, and a similar amount to be allocated to supporting business and individuals. It was expected this amount would be met by the Commonwealth Government. The Northern Territory Government conducted studies in the area in the years following the disaster to learn how better to prepare for major flood events, and now makes flood maps and information brochures available to the public as well as other early warning systems such as flood sirens and live webcams monitoring the river.
On 30 January, Prime Minister of Australia John Howard visited Katherine, announcing measures including disaster relief payments of $1000 for each adult and $200 for each child affected by the flooding, the creation of a taskforce to investigate problems faced by those who were not insured for flooding as well as $5 million in funding for repairs and improvements to the Stuart Highway.
The economic impact of the disaster on the town of Katherine was significant. Of the estimated $200 million damages, only $70 million was insured and many local businesses were forced to close. The pastoral industry, worth over $60 million annually to the region was badly affected by the loss of whole herds of livestock to the rising waters.
A study conducted by the School for Social and Policy Research at Charles Darwin University in 2008 analysed trends in census data before and after the disaster and found that the population had not yet recovered to pre-flood levels ten years after the event, and the demographics in the town had shifted significantly.
In 2008, the Katherine Town Council submitted to Infrastructure Australia documents outlining the approximate costing and importance of relocating the town's hospital and ambulance station to a less flood-prone area following the total evacuation and inundation of both facilities during the 1998 and 2006 flood events.
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- "Climate Education: Katherine floods, January 1998". Bureau of Meteorology. Archived from the original on 17 March 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Skertchly, A; Skertchly, K (1998–99). "The Katherine-Daly flood disaster 1998" (PDF). Australian Journal of Emergency Management.
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- Curtain, C (29 January 2008). "Remembering the Katherine flood of 1998". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
- "Demographic Change, Katherine and Cyclone Les" (PDF). Charles Darwin University. 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- "Katherine Hospital and Ambulance Station" (PDF). Infrastructure Australia. 14 October 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2012.