Cyclone Trevor: racism claims denied as Northern Territory begins clean-up

  • Claims fly-in fly-out workers given better accommodation than Indigenous evacuees
  • Cyclone Veronica continues to threaten WA’s Pilbara region

As the Northern Territory begins its big mop-up after Cyclone Trevor, local authorities have hosed down racism claims concerning evacuation efforts.

Trevor forced mass evacuations before it made landfall on Saturday morning as a category four system, with destructive winds gusting up to 250km/h.

A second monster storm – Cyclone Veronica – was on Monday still wreaking havoc in Western Australia’s Pilbara region and some communities were still under red alert.

Trevor had weakened into a tropical low and was expected to drench drought-stricken western Queensland over the coming days.

Some evacuees were starting to return home to remote Northern Territory communities. Repatriation flights returned 300 residents to Groote Eylandt on Sunday.

But people from the mainland township of Borroloola were still waiting for the all-clear to return while authorities finished damage assessments.

The NT government said that Ngukurr residents who self-evacuated could now drive themselves home.

There was some social media criticism over the weekend that fly-in fly-out workers were receiving evacuation special treatment over Indigenous people.

“FiFo workers & Non Indigenous ppl have been placed in accommodation, in hotels – the #IndigenousX mob in tents at the local footy field,” former NRL player Joe Williams wrote on Friday night, as quoted by the ABC.

“#AllLivesMatter – just our lives matter a little less when it comes to care during a cyclone!!!”

But NT chief minister Michael Gunner staunchly rejected those claims, saying his government was providing safe emergency accommodation at several locations available to all evacuees who had not made their own arrangements.

“Evacuees staying in hotels are there because they are vulnerable or have special needs; they have chosen to pay for their own hotel accommodation; they have hotel accommodation provided by their employer,” he said.

Children have been evacuated to Darwin ahead of Cyclone Trevor. They are playing at a Save the Children play centre.
A child who was evacuated to Darwin ahead of Cyclone Trevor plays at a Save the Children centre. Photograph: Jess Brennan/Save the Children

“During natural emergencies it is a time for all Australians to come together and help each other, not spread divisive and false information.”

Some tents at evacuation centres in Katherine and Darwin struggled to cope in stormy conditions over the weekend. But people were also housed indoors at Marrara Stadium in Darwin and a gym at Tennant Creek high school.

The NT education department on Monday set up pop-up schools in Darwin and Katherine for children who had been evacuated from small communities.

Save the Children has also been running special play spaces for youngsters at the the Katherine showgrounds as well as at Marrara Stadium evacuation centre, where about 400 people from Borroloola and Robinson River communities were staying.

The charity’s NT manager, Noelene Swanson, said:“When this all started, families were coming in from remote communities where English isn’t their first language … suddenly they’re in huge halls and the parents and kids and grandparents all looked a bit shell-shocked on the first day – they were walking around with big eyes in stunned silence.”

Children playing at Save the Children play centre
Youngsters at a Save the Children play centre. Photograph: Jess Brennan/Save the Children

She said over the past two days the vibe had relaxed and children and their parents had been creating giant paintings.

“It’s allowed children to be children,” Swanson said.

“One of the mums said to me yesterday: ‘I’m so glad you’re here, I’ve got five kids, my husband’s not here and they would all be running amok. I’m so glad they’re all calm.’”

On Monday the Bureau of Meteorology still had flood watches out for Carpentaria coastal rivers, the Georgina River, Simpson Desert and the Barkly region.

The Carpentaria Highway reopened on Monday, but the Robinson River remained inaccessible.

I went to the middle of the road this morning and captured this video down my street. I got caught in a gust and nearly went over.
PS: Neighbours tree is no longer there.#CycloneVeronica #Pilbara #Wickham #WesternAustralia

— Wendy (@WendyBirdOZ) March 24, 2019

Meanwhile, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, a red alert was still in place for some communities and people were urged to stay indoors.

“The danger is not over yet,” the WA premier, Mark McGowan, told reporters on Monday morning.

The red alert was in place for people in or near communities between Port Hedland and Mardie, including Whim Creek, Point Samson, Wickham, Roebourne, Karratha and Dampier, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Monday morning.

But the red alert no longer covered Port Hedland and South Hedland.

“And we are on all clear after 21 hours of yellow alert followed by 42 hours on red alert, we can now leave the house. It’s still raining though,” special needs teacher Lucy Guy tweeted from South Hedland.

It was still too early to know the extent of the damage.

Cyclone Veronica weakened overnight to a category two and was tracking west on Monday.

“The system is forecast to weaken below tropical cyclone intensity during Monday evening,” the BoM said.

Tropical Cyclone Veronica is expected to weaken further as it tracks westwards close to the Pilbara coast today. Conditions have eased at Port Hedland. Communities between Mardi and Whim Creek will still experience gales today. #CycloneVeronica

— Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia (@BOM_WA) March 25, 2019

Despite the hell-raising conditions many residents were still in good spirits, making jokes about a garage sale on Karratha’s buy, swap and sell Facebook page – wheelie bins and trampolines going at bargain prices.

No slowing the Pilbara sense of humour. #CycloneVeronica #TCVeronica

— Rebecca Parish (@Rebecca_Parish) March 24, 2019

There was also happy news for one family – the safe arrival of baby Veronica.

Paramedics risked their lives in Port Hedland to get the mother safely to hospital.

CYCLONE BABY: this is little Veronica, born as #TCVeronica slammed into the Pilbara coast. Paramedics risked their lives while Port Hedland was on red alert to bring mum safely to hospital @10NewsFirstPER @10Daily @theprojecttv

— Dougal Wallace 🔟 (@DougalWallace) March 25, 2019


Lisa Martin

The GuardianTramp

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