Record-breaking Christmas storm in Australia's Uluru national park causes flash floods

Extreme weather in Uluru national park left 400 people stranded, and 100 in emergency accommodation in remote Northern Territory settlement

Charlotte England
Monday 26 December 2016 14:08
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Record-breaking storm in Australia's Uluru national park causes flash floods

A severe storm that has caused flash floods in an Australian national park on Christmas Day has been described as a "once-in-a-half-century weather event".

A quarter of people in Kintore, a remote settlement in the Northern Territory with a 91 per cent Aboriginal population, was evacuated after a record-breaking amount of rain hit the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park yesterday.

Photographs shared on social media showed water running off the park's towering sandstone rock formations like waterfalls. The world-renowned site, which was visited by Prince William and Kate Middleton during their 2014 tour of the country, is a Unesco World Heritage site and is sacred to the area's Aboriginal people.

Between 8pm and 9pm on Sunday 61.4mm of rain was recorded in the area, which the Bureau of Meteorology said had not happened for 50 years and took the December rainfall total to an unprecedented 373.4mm.

Northern Territory police said flash flooding had damaged properties and displaced some of the 400 people living in Kintore, which is located about 520km west of Alice Springs near the Northern Territory and Western Australia border.

“There's a significant number of houses that have been affected by flooding in some capacity,” Acting Superintendent Pauline Vicary told the ABC.

She said 20 to 25 homes were flooded, fences on other properties were damaged, and cars were submerged and 96 people were taken to an emergency evacuation point at the local school — 85 are still sheltering there but others found accommodation with family and friends.

“Thankfully no one's been injured,” Ms Vicary said.

“It is a remote area and it's quite tricky, all the roads are impassable from the NT side into Kintore at the moment, and the WA access is also significantly impaired and it's quite dangerous to get though, so it's obviously going to impair us getting resources in there.”

Thick, low cloud made it impossible for a police plane to fly in to assist the stranded community.

But Ms Vicary said the community had an emergency plan in place for natural disasters. The community had plenty of food and medical supplies, she said, and the clinic was not affected.

Ms Vicary said the Papunya community, about 250km west of Alice Springs, was also “completely isolated, roads are impassable”, but there were no reports of flooding in the settlement itself.

The Uluru park itself has been closed due to flooded roads and the potential for car accidents, park manager Mike Misso told the ABC.

“There's a lot of water … coming off the rock and what that does is just channels across the ring road around Uluru, some of those roads there were flooded by about 300 to 400mm of rain. [It is] quite spectacular but very hazardous road conditions,” he said.

The situation is being assessed every two hours to determine whether it is safe to reopen, “but there's a lot of rain and a lot of water on the roads”, Mr Misso warned.

Yulara, the community closest to Uluru, also suffered severe flooding. On boxing day, firemen were reportedly attempting to pump water out of the town square.

Some flights to the area were cancelled.

Yulara averages 274.6mm of rainfall in a year, BOM NT said. “They might get close to this in the next four days alone!” It said on Twitter on Monday.

The Bureau advised that a deep low pressure system was moving slowly south-eastwards across the far southwest of the Northern Territory. In addition to heavy rain, it said strong winds are to be expected.

Flash flooding could affect the eastern Lasseter, southern Tanami and western Simpson Districts, the BOM said, adding the Yulara and Kulgera communities may be affected, along with Alice Springs, Yuendumu, Wulungurru and Kaltukatjara.

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