Midwest residents are still rebuilding one year after the tropical Cyclone Seroja devastated the region

It has been a year since the tropical Cyclone Seroja tore through Western Australia’s Midwest and Wheatbelt, but hundreds of residents are still waiting for their homes and businesses to be repaired or rebuilt.

The Category 3 storm damaged more than 2,270 properties across 16 local government areas, impacting a 770-kilometer stretch of coastline from Carnarvon to Mount Marshall.

The popular holiday destination of Kalbarri and the nearby town of Northampton bore the brunt of the cyclone, with about 70 per cent of the towns’ buildings damaged or destroyed.

The state government continues to work with thousands of residents from areas impacted by the cyclone, but delays with insurance payments, worker shortages and supply issues are slowing the rebuild.

A two storey home with scaffolding and a white tarp on the roof.  Behind is a bungalow with an orange tarp.
These two homes in Kalbarri still had tarps on their rooves in March this year. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

Andrea and Paul Teakle have found temporary housing in Horrocks, 17km west of Northampton, since the cyclone hit their farm.

They are still waiting for building repairs to begin on their house.

“Our intent is to move back to the farm, however we’re not sure if we’ll be moving back into the family home,” Mrs Teakle said.

She said many residents were frustrated.

“I think it’s the fatigue that’s really starting to wear them done now [as they ask]’How much longer, when will I be moving forward?’. “

A street in a regional town strewn with debris after a cyclone.
Residents woke to find destruction and devastation around the Kalbarri townsite.(ABC News: Samille Mitchell)

Shortage of workers

Kalbarri builder Phil Crogan has hired more staff in a bid to keep up with local demand.

He says there is so much work that he’s had to knock some rebuild projects back.

“That’s a hard thing to do, but the workload has been huge,” Mr Crogan said.

“Prior to the cyclone I was able to keep a small band of subcontractors and ourselves busy, but we’ve probably doubled that.

A two storey home with no roof and damage to the top floor which is covered with rubble.  Vacant sandy land surrounds the home.
A damaged home at Kalbarri tourist attraction Rainbow Jungle in March this year. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell.)

Mr Crogan has seen both the cost of materials and worker pay rates increase by about 30 per cent over the past year.

He said that sate and federal stimulus packages designed to boost the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic have added to the pressure.

The state government has implemented several initiatives to entice more builders to the impacted towns, including encouraging apprenticeships and rolling out caravans to the Shires of Mingenew and Perenjori to temporarily house workers.

Livelihoods impacted

For Northampton resident Ian Trevarton, the wait to rebuild has taken too long.

For 17 years he has owned the town’s 146-year-old Railway Tavern, which was significantly damaged by the cyclone.

Mr Trevarton has since put the tavern on the market, after his insurance company only offered to cover a third of the $ 1 million damage bill.

Ian and Kelly Trevarton
Kelly and Ian Trevarton ran Northampton’s Railway Tavern.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Chris Lewis)

“We’re now in the process of selling the pub.

“We’ve made lots of friends here, but sometimes you’ve got to move on, start a new chapter.”

The Insurance Council of Australia estimates about $ 350 million in claims have been processed that cite damage from Cyclone Seroja.

As of April 9, it amounted to about 9,300 insurance claims lodged, with about 80 per cent of those now closed.

WA recovery controller Melissa Pexton said of the thousands of residents whose homes were impacted by the cyclone, most were still waiting for building works to start.

She anticipates it could take at least another year before people could return to their homes.

“I always said it’s going to be at least a two-year journey,” Ms Pexton said.

“We are a year in, and I would anticipate that this particular recovery is going to take an extended period of time.”

aerial shot of an old tavern with most of the roof missing and debris laying on the ground nearby.
The Railway Tavern in Northampton was among more than 70 heritage-listed buildings damaged by the cyclone.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Christopher Lewis)

Recovery funding yet to go out

In July, the state and federal governments announced $ 104 million in funding for communities impacted by the cyclone. It was the largest disaster recovery package yet in the state’s history.

The Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements included grants for insured home owners whose insurance did not cover the total cost of repairs.

The grant, handled by DFES, has received 328 applications.

But so far, just $ 33,000 has been given to two approved applicants.

A fence in front of three single storey buildings with no roofs or windows.  Double storey units behind are intact.
These accommodation units in Kalbarri were still being repaired in March this year. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

Ms Pexton said building works had to be completed before the payment could be handed out.

However, WA Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said he was working with the community, through local recovery hubs, to make sure the funding reached people who needed it.

He also indicated he was open to a change in the way money was allocated.

“The way in which the DRFA is set up, where the completion of building works is a requirement for reimbursement payments to be authorized, is a matter we are raising with the federal government,” he said.

Some homes patched up

For Jenny and Ted McClintock the memory of Cyclone Seroja is still fresh.

The cyclone destroyed their home and tourism accommodation business, 22km south of Kalbarri.

Two women walk towards the camera along the gravel near the ocean while a man works on a small unit behind them.  The sky is cloudy.
Jenny McClintock and her daughter-in-law, Lisa McClintock, outside one of Wagoe Beach chalets earlier this year. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

“It was like a bomb had hit. It was a total devastation,” Ms McClintock said.

The couple has since been able to move back into their home, but work on their accommodation chalets has only just started.

It will probably be another two years before their business returns to normal.

“We’re plodding along. Some days are harder when little things pop up,” Ms McClintock said.

“But we’ve got it easy compared to what other people have; at least we’ve got a roof.”


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