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AMRRIC assists Cyclone Trevor Emergency Response

Dogs in the evacuated Urapunga community, happy to see a human, especially one bearing food!

Mid-March 2019, Tropical Cyclone Trevor left the west coast of Cape York, building up as it travelled across the shallow and warm water mass of the Gulf of Carpentaria, threatening the very remote communities along east coast of the Northern Territory from Groote Eylandt to the Queensland border. With significant damage forecast, reportedly the biggest evacuation event in Australian history occurred involving plans to evacuate up to 10,000 people from the region.  

After much preparation from the Northern Territory Government, Roper Gulf and East Arnhem Regional Council as well as other local stakeholders, on Saturday afternoon, March 23rd, TC Trevor hit the coast over the evacuated community of Robinson River, near Borroloola, as a Category 4.

The lack of cyclone shelters within the communities impacted, combined with the scale of the evacuations and remoteness involved (e.g. Borroloola, one of the evacuated communities, is 972km by road from the evacuation centers in Darwin – a distance further than that between Melbourne and Sydney) prevented animals from being evacuated with their owners. Fortunately, animal welfare was prioritised as part of the emergency response.

From Thursday AMRRIC staff were involved in Emergency Response meetings, providing companion animal population data and community insights, and coordinating the man power, dog food, transport logistics, drugs, etc for the range of potential scenarios that may have occured. 

Saturday afternoon (March 23) three teams of two convened at the Katherine Agricultural Research Station to prioritise and coordinate post-cyclone actions. These teams consisted of Roper Gulf Regional Council’s two veterinarians, two Biosecurity staff, AMRRIC Program Manager (and veterinarian) and a consultant from Territory Animal Solutions.  Pre-dawn Sunday (Mar 24 – less than 24 hours after the Cyclone crossed the coast) the teams dispersed by 4WD, plane or helicopter to the Roper Gulf communities of Numbulwar, Ngukurr, Urapunga, Borroloola and Robinson River. 

As first responders, the tasks were basic: locate the animals, free dogs and cats locked inside houses, feed them, secure water supplies, and triage and treat any injured animals. Miraculously, even with over 120 trees down in Robinson River, and several in Borroloola, damage to houses was minimal. Equally, miraculously, the dogs and cats remaining in these communities pulled through remarkably unscathed – no doubt by intuition. Even five, tiny, six-week-old Chihuahua pups managed to find safe shelter during the cyclone, happily greeting one of the veterinary teams on their arrival at a Borroloola outstation. 

The communities assessed were eerily silent with not a soul present. The dogs in each community were trustingly waiting at their respective households and ecstatic to see a human - even more so, a human bearing food! Dogs, pigs, horses, poultry, a brolga and cats were among the species assessed and given the all-clear. 

A small percentage of residents had, with good intentions, locked animals in houses. This provided varying degrees of challenges for the teams however in trying to ensure the animals had ongoing access to food and water. The removal of window-based air conditioners proved a good access point. Removing air conditioners is certainly not something veterinary teams are generally familiar with though – lucky the teams were prepared to be adaptable and ingenious! 

Top End Rehoming Group, a local organisation based in Darwin and Katherine, generously provided the dog food donations which were distributed among the impacted communities. 

By Tuesday March 26, the sun was shining, the Roper River was still massively flooding and chainsaws were buzzing, but local shops were opening and busloads of residents were returning. The first wave of Animal Impact response was complete and a clear success.

In the ensuing days, the animal-focused response was also featured across a variety of news outlets. You can read more on ABC’s website here.

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