Hundreds of people have been cut off and isolated in the central Australian desert following heavy rainfall in the region, with many having little or no access to adequate food or emergency services.
- A local nurse says the lack of telecommunications to the region is putting lives at risk.
- Dozens of people are stranded without food or access to emergency services
- Roads are impassable after 161 millimetres of rain
One hundred and sixty millimetres has fallen in the Utopia homelands north-east of Alice Springs, flooding roadways and knocking out local Telstra services.
Kelly, who did not want her full name used, is a nurse at the Urapuntja Health Service, the only health clinic for the region’s 1,000 residents.
“They cannot contact us in medical emergencies — there could be drownings, motor vehicle accidents — and obviously that keeps us under stress,” she said.
“We’ve been without Telstra landline and mobile, not just us at the health service, but the police, the store and every member of the community.”
Kelly said she was using a pair of old walkie-talkies she found at the clinic to communicate over short distances with the clinic’s other nurse.
She said widespread flooding in the region meant that people couldn’t physically travel to the clinic or be visited.
“People are getting worried, obviously they can’t get what they need.”
This isn’t the first time the region has lost Telstra services. Frequently, during periods of rainfall or cloud cover, the region’s telecommunications services fail.
One outage last summer stretched for 12 days.
“I can understand that the elements are against us, however, in metropolitan areas, you wouldn’t see it happening,” Kelly said.
Telstra said the issue was power-related and it was aware of the situation.
Technicians had been turned away from accessing the region by police and emergency services on safety grounds.
Telstra said it had upgraded solar-battery storage capacity in Arlparra in the past 12 months to help extend coverage in times during cloud cover.
Roads not up to task
The Sandover highway, which connects the Utopia homelands to Alice Springs, has been closed for more than a week because of the flooding, cutting the community off from its closest major service centre.
Within Utopia, communities have also been cut off from one each other.
Michael Gravener, from the Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation, was called on the by the local police to use the organisation’s large truck to deliver food to a stranded community.
“The police had a call to go out to assist a homeland called Indarininya which has about 25 people, lots of kids and a few older people,” he said.
“And unfortunately for them, the roads are really poor — they were isolated and many did not have food.”
Mr Gravener’s truck got bogged three kilometres from the community and he had to walk with the supplies to the community.
“They were hungry. There are a people who didn’t have medications, which could have a serious effect, and others with no access to power cards. So when the electricity ran out, they had no electricity.”
Region divided by floodwaters
The Utopia homelands are made up of a number of small communities along the edge of the Sandover River, a dry river that only flows during periods of heavy rainfall.
The downpour meant the Sandover started to flow, cutting the homelands in half.
Dennis Kunoth lives in Three Bore, a homeland on the southern side of the Sandover river — the side without clinic access.
“When the river does run it’s a sight to behold I suppose, but it’s dangerous,” he said.
“You have to be prepared for flooding of course, and also bogging with these dirt roads”
He said there were five or six homelands that had been cut off on his side of the river.
“It will take a couple of weeks before we could get around it — our river crossings are causeways made of clay,” he said.
“Once it drops down, you still can’t get across.
“You are left with quicksand and all that sort of stuff. Somebody would struggle, even with a four-wheel-drive, if they were lucky.
“At least, if they could have a bitumen crossing, it’d make it a lot more passable,” Mr Kunoth said.