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Great Northern Highway linking Broome and Derby reopened weeks after massive floods cut supply lines

Giovanni Torre -

The Great Northern Highway linking Broome and Derby reopened Thursday, on a limited basis, more than one month after massive flooding cut vital supply lines in Western Australia's Kimberley region.

The floods inundated homes and businesses and destroyed or damaged roads and bridges and other infrastructure.

Local Indigenous groups have worked together on the initial emergency response and longer-term flood recovery efforts, organising rescues, food supplies, transport to accommodation and other vital services.

The WA and federal government have also collaborated on the response to Western Australia's worst floods in history, with state services on the ground and Defence providing air drops of essentials supplies after road routes were shattered.

On Thursday morning Derby-West Kimberley Shire president Geoff Haerewa told the ABC people have faced tough times.

"We've had evacuees coming in from Fitzroy Crossing as well, that are coming to the town and it's put pressure on all the services that have been trying to support the evacuees coming to town as well as the town itself," he said.

"One of the most important things was keeping the power on. So initially it was getting the fuel across from Broome all by barge to Derby, setting up generators because all our power stations are run by gas and you can't put gas trailers onto barges.

"Everybody's done a fantastic job but the opening of this road is just the sheer work that Main Roads, staff and all our contractors have done and the appreciation by our communities… I can't explain just how everybody appreciates the work that these guys and girls have done."

Mr Haerewa noted that it is still the wet season and the re-opening could be temporary.

"We've always got one eye on the on the sky looking out for any rain that could come along again. We are still in the middle of the wet season, there's contingencies for that. We're just hoping it stays open as long as possible," he said.

Access has some limitations, with travellers and freight escorted through between 8am and 4pm, the Shire president said.

"That's for four days, and then next week there'll be limited access for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon so that the crews can go and try and get a two lane road or dirt track in there," Mr Haerewa said.

He noted that Fitzroy Crossing remains "cut off to the east" and would likely be for some time.

Much of the Fitzroy Valley continues to rely heavily on air freight, the cost of which has put pressure on local business and the community.

"They've got a barging solution that they're trying. But we're just hoping that the river drops down and there's some access through the old Fitzroy Crossing crossing they call it, and hopefully get some trucks through there too so that the people from the east in particular for the service providers, teachers, police, hospital workers, all have their vehicles and the furniture in Broome so to get them across the rivers is highly important for these guys," he said.

The Shire president told the ABC that while in hindsight he could note "there were things missing, that there were things that weren't done that should have been done", he acknowledged "the extraordinary work that all the volunteers, that defence has done, that all of the service providers… everybody that helped out in this crisis".

"It was just beyond extraordinary. And this road opening is just one of the examples of all the hard work that everybody's put in. So, it's greatly appreciated by everybody, but there can be things done.

"This can be some huge roadworks going ahead, particularly the bridge and Fitzroy Crossing, as well as the fixing of all the roads that have been damaged right throughout the region to give them a road as another one. We're just looking forward to all of this work happening and happiness as fast as possible."


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