NT floods: Stuart Hwy reopens, emergency declared in remote communities

The Stuart Hwy has reopened for four-wheel-drive and heavy vehicles, allowing fresh fruits and vegetables to make their way back to Top End supermarkets.

Shoppers were met with bare shelves across Darwin on Sunday after widespread flooding shut down much of the Stuart Hwy between Katherine and the Devils Marbles on Friday.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler announced the road had reopened about 4pm on Sunday.

“Smaller vehicles are not permitted to travel between Renner Springs and Threeways Roadhouse due to water over road in various locations,” she said.

“Please drive with caution and follow all traffic directions.

“The trucks are loaded in Alice ready to head to Darwin with perishables to restock supermarkets.”

Emergency warning issued as Victoria River nears record flood levels

Earlier, January 21: SecureNT has issued an Emergency Warning for Kalkarindji and a Watch and Act notice for people near the Victoria River, as flood waters approach 1991 record levels.

Providing an update at midday Sunday Chief Minister Eva Lawler said an emergency declaration had been issued for Pigeon Hole, Daguragu, Kalkarindji, Yarralin, and Timber Creek.

“We have already evacuated 20 Pigeon Hole residents to the Batten Road facility here in Darwin,” Ms Lawler said.

“Evacuations are currently not needed for Daguragu, Kalkarindji, Yarralin and Timber Creek, however we are planning with the Defence Force in case this is needed.”

Ms Lawler was due to fly out to Japan to reaffirm the Territory’s relationship with major gas investors, however she postponed the trip as the emergency weather event continued to develop.

“What we are currently seeing is a severe Weather Warning for heavy, locally intense rainfall for people in Gregory and parts of Carpentaria, Barkly and Tanami districts,” she said.

“Road and rail access is currently limited. The Stuart Highway is closed and we are working to get it opened as soon as possible and Aurizon are doing the same with the rail.”

As many supermarket shelves run dry of fresh fruits and vegetables, Ms Lawler said she had been assured by major supermarkets there were significant non-perishable supplies of dry and frozen foods in anticipation of weather events.

“If the road network remains closed, contingencies including alternative transportation methods or routes will be considered,” she said.

“Our remote community stores also have stock, however we are planning on getting supplies to those areas too.”

The Kalkarindji community along the Upper Victoria River have been warned to take immediate action to shelter indoors until given the clear by authorities, being told it was too dangerous to travel.

On Sunday the river at Kalkarindji was at 11.6m and rising.

It was expected to remain above the moderate flood level through Sunday, with further rises and higher levels possible up to the major flood level on Sunday night and into Monday as areas of heavy rainfall continue across the catchment.

Households along the Victoria River have also been told to enact their emergency plans as areas of heavy to intense rain are expected to continue across the catchment during the next few days.

The Victoria River at the Victoria Highway Crossing was 24.15m and rising on Sunday.

A Severe Weather Warning for heavy, locally intense rainfall was current for Gregory and parts of the Barkly, Tanami and Carpentaria districts.

Supply trucks stranded as major highways cut off by flooding

Earlier, January 21: Movement of people and supplies is at a standstill in many parts of the Territory as flooding continues to cut off key access roads.

On Sunday morning 535km of the Stuart Hwy north of Tennant Creek was closed, along with a 100km stretch of the highway south of the town.

Tennant Creek Local David Curtis said several trucks were stranded in the town and had been waiting at the edge of the floodwaters for days.

“Some of them are sleeping in their trucks,” he said.

“Some of them have got food and perishables on board so they need to get through or we’ll start to notice it in the supermarkets.”

Fruit and vegetable shelves were already sitting bare in some Top End stores.

Almost the entire Victoria Hwy from the Western Australia border to Katherine was closed on Sunday morning.

About 20 truck drivers and tourists had been stuck at the Victoria River Roadhouse, which was inundated with floodwaters on Saturday.

One of the truckers sheltering at the roadhouse, Tony Henwood, did not know when they would be able to move on – but did not expect it to be any time soon.

“That’s the million dollar question,” he said on Friday, when floodwaters were still 50m from the roadhouse doors.

“It’s come up slowly so that usually means it’ll go down slowly too. I’ve been stuck here for three weeks before.”

The truck drivers were used to it, he said, and knew all you could do was wait it out, “sit around, and talk”.

Staff at the roadhouse had been rationing food to make sure there was enough to go around.

“It’s the tourists who are a bit more agitated – they’ve got important places to be,” Mr Henwood said.

“Watching people getting choppered in for being stupid and trying to drive through floodwaters, that’s what annoys us.”

On Sunday morning the Victoria River was 16.8m above the Dashwood crossing and 19.13m above the crossing at Coolibah Station.

Meanwhile the Daly River was 18.09m above the Dorisvale Crossing and expected to continue rising.

Huge rainfalls have been recorded in Bonaparte and North West Coastal areas.

In the week to 9am Sunday, Armstrong River recorded 506.5mm of rain, Coolibah 491mm, Townsend Creek 467mm, Beeboom Crossing 446.5mm, Mount Nancar 438.5mm and Victoria River Crossing 409mm.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a flood warning for the Victoria River, moderate flood warning for the Daly River, and flood watch for the North West and parts of Central NT.

A severe weather warning remains in place for people in parts of Gregory and Tanami districts, for heavy, locally intense rainfall continuing over western parts of the Territory on Sunday.

“A tropical low located just to the southeast of Kalkarindji is forecast to move towards the west southwest through (Sunday),” the Bureau said.

“At this stage, the tropical low is expected to move out of the Northern Territory late Sunday evening and into the Kimberley in Western Australia during Monday morning.”

Lawler’s Japan trip delayed as flooding intensifies, evacuations begin

January 20: The Chief Minister has delayed her trip to Japan to take charge of protecting flood-affected Territorians.

Eva Lawler was due to visit Tokyo on Sunday night to cultivate economic relationships with representatives and investors from companies including INPEX and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation from Monday to Wednesday.

But recent flooding and subsequent evacuations has seen the chief plant her feet firmly in NT soil.

“Nothing is more important to me than the safety and wellbeing of Territorians,” Ms Lawler said.

“At this stage, our infrastructure corridors are becoming inaccessible.

“We are working on plans on how we can get supplies into the Territory.

“Territorians are mine and our Government’s number one priority – we will make sure we get our infrastructure corridors back up and running.

“I will not be going anywhere until I know all Territorians have the supplies and access that they need.”

It comes after 500m of railway between Tennant Creek and Katherine washed away and the monsoonal weather limited access to the Stuart Hwy and Victoria Hwy.

Ms Lawler said about 20 Pigeon Hole residents had already been evacuated to Darwin.

January 19: Ongoing rainfall and extensive flooding across several days has forced a 500km stretch of the Stuart Highway to be closed.

The major highway has been cut off between the Roper Highway, just south of Mataranka, and Three Ways, which is a 533km drive north of Alice Springs.

Flooding has impacted the areas 2.5km north of the Daly Waters intersection, which is about 160km south of the Roper Highway.

Similar floods have emerged 20km north of Three Ways at Phillip Creek, forcing the Northern Territory Emergency Services to close off the entire stretch of road.

Water is over the road at various other low-lying areas and continues to rise.

Emergency services expect the road to remain closed until Monday.

Incident Controller Paul Faustmann said motorists were urged to reconsider travel due to the conditions.

“We are urging motorists to avoid the area and reconsider travel due to heavy rain and rising water over the road,” he said.

“Never drive into flood waters. If it’s flooded, forget it.”

Residents to be evacuated from flooding in remote communities

The Police Minister has declared an emergency situation in Pigeon Hole and Daguragu, with plans underway to evacuate residents from the flood-hit communities in the Gregory district.

Preparations are also being made in case Daly River needs to be evacuated as a tropical low continues to impact broad swathes of the Territory between Katherine and Tennant Creek.

Forty people are expected to be evacuated from Pigeon Hole on Thursday evening.

Five medically-vulnerable people will be taken to Katherine and the remaining 35 will be housed at the YiSSA short-stay housing facility in Marrara, Darwin.

Northern Territory Police said the residents were sheltering in a nearby evacuation centre without power as they waited for rescue.

“It is a shelter but it’s not a long term shelter, and we expect the community to be flooded for up to a week. We want them to be safe and comfortable and they can’t stay there for that length of time,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Matt Hollamby said.

About 50 residents of Daguragu were able to self-evacuate to Kalkarindji on Thursday morning as the creek running between the two towns receded.

Arrangements were being made to accommodate them in Kalkarindji until they could return home.

Mr Hollamby said it was too early to indicate whether any homes had been inundated or how much property damage had occurred.

River levels at Daly River, a significantly larger community, were not expected to reach major flood levels.

If evacuation was required, however, Mr Hollamby said it was likely Foskey Pavilion would be stood up for emergency accommodation.

The former Howard Springs Centre for National Resilience – which was used to house flood victims last year but has since been handed over to Defence for housing – also remained a possible option.

“Foskey’s is our traditional evacuation centre where we take people, we’re not ruling out the availability of some of the Howard Springs facility but we will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a flood warning for Victoria River, moderate flood warning for the Daly River, and minor flood warning for the Katherine river.

A severe weather warning for heavy, locally intense rainfall is in place for parts of Carpentaria, Gregory, Barkly and Tanami districts.

“Within those warning areas we are expecting widespread daily totals of 50 to around 100, 120mm, but we can easily expect to have isolated heavier falls around or in excess of 200mm,” Bureau of Meteorology Hazard Preparedness and Response manager Shenagh Gamble said.

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