Counting down to disaster

Counting down to disaster, a timeline of the devastating 1998 Katherine flood included in our 20th anniversary souvenir edition out today.

1931 - flood.

1940 - flood.

1957 - flood.

1974 - flood.

1998 -

January 20 - Tropical Cyclone Les begins to form from a deep westerly monsoon surge which interacted with a low embedded in the monsoon trough in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

January 23 - Warnings issued by Bureau of Meteorology.

January 24 - TC Les officially becomes a cyclone and a ship in its path records a wind gust of 170kmh.

January 25 - Les passes over Numbulwar on the mainland coast and crosses the Top End over next four days, being downgraded to a rain depression. Deprived of the energy it derives from warm tropical waters, the cyclone weakens and drops prodigious quantities of water. In the afternoon, heavy rain begins to fall in an already saturated Katherine. In the 72 hours to late January 27, 400 - 550 mm of rainfall was recorded across the Katherine River catchment. The total rainfall at Katherine for January was 913.8 mm, making it the wettest January in 124 years of record.

January 26 - Roads north and south from Katherine were closed due to rising floodwaters.

Darwin is cut off from the rest of Australia by road for five days.

Businesses, those still operating during the public holiday like the supermarket, send staff home about 3.30pm to care for their homes.

RAAF personnel from RAAF Base Tindal joined local police and emergency services to assist with sandbagging critical infrastructure.

Many  houses were completely under water and the water rose to the rooflines in the downtown area. "The  entire town will have to be rebuilt.," a government report recorded.   At least three deaths were reported. A number of semi-homeless Indigenous residents had their camps washed away.

Residents began to be evacuated as an estimated 500 businesses and 1200 homes were inundated by floodwaters, including the Katherine District Hospital. Government reports record "In many cases, evacuations were a last minute exercise - partly due to complacency but, in at least some cases, people put off leaving for fear of looters". Citizens today report that looting was rife at the time.

January 27 - Heavy rain stops falling.

A state of emergency is declared for Katherine as the Katherine River reached a level of 20.3 m (the floodwaters peaked at 20.4 metres at the Katherine railway bridge, passing the previous record of 19.3m during major flooding in 1957).

River bursts banks at Knotts crossing.

Drainage and sewerage systems fail, leading to an outbreak of gastroenteritis.

Almost a metre high waves in Katherine Terrace washed cars away and broke remaining shop windows.

A fleet of boats and five helicopters begin to rescue residents from home roofs.

January 28 - As the flood waters recede priority is given to making the flooded hospital plus the supermarket operational again. More than 300 extra Australian Defence Force personnel arriving to help with the clean-up.

Food airlifts using RAAF aircraft begin.

Attentions turns to Daly River with more than 400 people evacuated, and every building inundated. Floodwaters from the Fergusson and Katherine rivers peaked on February 3. Various other communities in the Roper and Moyle River catchments were severely affected, involving hundreds of evacuations in some cases.

January 30 - Prime Minister John Howard (pictured above) visits Katherine announcing disaster relief payments of $1000 for each adult and $200 for each child plus the creation of a taskforce to investigate problems faced by those who were not insured for flooding as well as $5 million in funding for repairs and improvements to the Stuart Highway.

February - Australia Red Cross launched national public appeal.

February 6 - Woolworths supermarket opens again in YMCA roller skating rink (it was to re-open again on May 15).

February 8 - All electrical power restored.

March - Stores begin re-opening.

1992 - Katherine Floodplain Management Study (Power and Water Authority). Investigates protective levee banks, not funded.

1996 - Katherine Levees (Department of Lands Planning and Environment, 1996). Investigates protective levee banks, not funded.

2006 -  flood.

2006 flood.

2006 flood.

2007 - Katherine flood levee study (WRM Water & Environment). Investigates protective levee banks, especially hospital. Not funded.

Four town flood warning sirens, installed after 1998 flood, are decommissioned.

2014 - NT Government announces $50 million funding for flood mitigation for the Darwin region and Katherine as part of the sale of the Territory Insurance Office, $25 million isolated for Katherine use.

2015 - Katherine Flood Mitigation Advisory Committee formed.  Recommendations include moving CBD to Katherine East and again highlights inaction over relocation of hospital from river bank.  Final report in August. Commissioned Katherine Town Centre Retail and Commercial Analysis Report, which looks at "second" town centre in Katherine East. Potential site off the Stuart Highway in Katherine East adjacent to the Katherine Research Station.

A geomorphological assessment of the Katherine River is completed.

2016 - The Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment is working with the Department of Land Resource Management to finalise the digital flood model. This includes the provision for local-scale modelling.

2017 - Three flood emergency shelters are identified in Katherine East - Katherine High School, MacFarlane Primary School, and Casuarina Street Primary School.

2017 - Ambulance station relocated from near bank of river to Katherine East and officially opened.

2018 - Katherine River webcam operational with 30 second updates.