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Fitzroy Valley flood recovery and rebuild will take months, WA Premier warns

Giovanni Torre -

It could take months to restore vital infrastructure to communities devastated by the unprecedented floods in Western Australia's Kimberley region, the state's premier has warned.

Mark McGowan described the infrastructure damage caused by the flooding in as "extraordinary" as the extent of the task ahead has become more clear as the waters recede.

Former tropical cyclone Ellie swept through Fitzroy Valley and beyond over the past few days, bringing heavy rains that has seen the Martuwarra Fitzroy Valley reach historic proportions, almost 17m high at Fitzroy Crossing and 50km wide in parts.

The river engulfed the main bridge into the township, twisting and shattering it.

The Fitzroy River bridge is part of the only sealed road linking Broome, on the west coast, with the rest of the Kimberley and the Northern Territory.

Hundreds of residents of communities around the town were evacuated, taking shelter in the recreation centre and other makeshift sites.

In some communities, homes were completely submerged. Roads have also been severely damaged, cutting off communities and necessitating drops of food and other vital supplies by helicopter.

Mr McGowan said on Tuesday "this is an issue we're going to have to manage for months, if not longer".

"The damage to the roads and bridge is extraordinary, and will take a long time to fix," he said.

"The bridge will have to be rebuilt, and any work can't commence until after the wet season.

"This is a massive logistical exercise and will take a long period of time."

The premier and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Fitzroy Valley on Monday.

An alternate crossing at Fitzroy Crossing most likely won't be useable until the wet season ends, and more rains have been forecast for coming days.

As a result of the significant and widespread damage to roads and bridges in the region the movement of essential supplies poses a stark challenge for communities, businesses and authorities.

Road freight will now have to complete a 6,000 kilometre (one-way) journey via South Australia and the Northern Territory to move freight from Perth into the east Kimberley, the ABC reports.

Western Roads Federation chief executive Cam Dumesny told the national broadcaster that the route would be in place for some time.

The mammoth road journey will drive up fuel costs and may pass on expenses to businesses and residents, stoking fears that small business in east Kimberley may face closure.

Local Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary Kerry Robertson told the ABC trucking costs had doubled for those needing to move goods to and from WA's capital.

WA authorities have given communities some hope of relief, with an isolated section of the highway linking Derby and Fitzroy Crossing expected to reopen this week, which could allow freight to arrive in Derby by barge or air and then be driven to Fitzroy Crossing.

However, Derby West Kimberley shire president Geoff Haerewa said it could be weeks before the Broome to Derby link was safe to reopen.

"Minnie Bridge and Cockatoo Bridge near Ski Lake [along Great Northern Highway near Willare] are underwater," he said.

"Fortunately, we've got RAAF Curtin where large planes can land, and barges coming up from Port Hedland and Broome."

The floods devastated homes and infrastructure and also wildlife, killing wild and domestic animals in the valley.

Empty shop shelves, which have plagued communities in the Fitzroy Valley, have now become a serious problem in Broome and elsewhere in the Kimberley, as broken supply lines have caused shortages.

Local businesses and community volunteers have worked together to get food to those most in need.

Main Roads said aerial inspections found major damage to most of the Willare section of the Great Northern Highway, down river from Fitzroy Crossing, where water levels remain high.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services incident control officer Glen Hall told the ABC that authorities were undertaking assessments and there was no confirmed time frame for residents to be able to return home.

"Thankfully, we've had no reports of death or injury. I can only commend the efforts of the community for that," he said.

"I would just ask for people's patience. There is an array of steps we need to go through to assess when we can put people back on country. That's our priority as a team."


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