Date: 1998, 24 January
Where: Katherine is a town 320 kilometres southeast from Darwin and it’s in the “top end” of Australia in the Northern Territory. It is the fourth largest settlement in the Territory after the capital Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs.
Becoming a Hazard
Some of the heaviest rainfall and worst flooding over northern Australia occurs when a tropical cyclone crosses the coast and moves inland. The energy it develops from warm tropical waters, the cyclone weakens and eventually disintegrates - but as it weakens, the storm can drop extraordinary large amounts of water.
Early on 24 of January 1998, Tropical Cyclone Les developed over the Harbor of Carpentaria, then moved westward which drifted towards Katherine on 25-26 January. Rain began to fall in Katherine on the afternoon of the 25th, which developed into a steady and heavy rainstorm, and continued almost without a break until the early afternoon of the 27th, by then the Katherine River had risen to more than 20 metres –which became the largest flood in Katherine's history. Two metres of water covered the main street, the whole central business district was flooded, and many roads were cut off in and out of Katherine. 2,000 people had to abandon their homes and most of their possessions were left in the waters; many lost everything.
Katherine was not at all the only place to suffer. Downstream, the entire community of Daly River (more than 400 people) was evacuated, and every building drowned. Local rain first flooded properties and communities on 28 January. Two days later, floodwaters from the Fergusson River arrived and finally the Katherine River flood peak struck on 3 February. Various other communities in the Roper and Moyle River catchments were severely affected, involving hundreds of evacuations in some cases.
The Katherine flood was but one of a number of exceptionally heavy rain events in the Australian tropics during the 1997/98 Wet seasons.
Impacts of the Disaster
Physical Environment: The Katherine Flood caused an enormous impact on the environment. The large flood currents carried away the trees and rocks which made it dangerous for the people that may be in the waters. The flooding destroyed the crops making it hard animals and humans find to sources of food. The drainage system in the city was also destroyed, causing sewage to spill out into the bodies of water, rivers, lakes and oceans, along with paint, pesticide and gasoline coming from the destroyed buildings. Many of these toxic materials are the cause of water born diseases that may start to spread.
Built Environment: The built environment was damaged and destroyed as a result from the flood. The Katherine community had high repair costs and long period of time was needed for reestablishment. The government and the community were badly affected through the destruction and the