The wrath of Cyclone Debbie

Intensifying to a category four system with destructive wind gusts of up to 263km per hour sweeping from Bowen to Mackay, Cyclone Debbie made landfall in northern Queensland around midday on April 28, 2017.

Heavy rainfall and damaging winds crossed and tracked inland, causing flooding in numerous river and coastal catchments, including parts of the Central Highlands and Coalfields, Maranoa and Warrego and Darling Downs districts.

The Bureau of Meteorology alerted those affected that it could take up to 18 hours for the cyclone’s core to pass and warned residents in low-lying areas that Cyclone Debbie could cause inundation of up to 2.5m above the high tide level.

As Cyclone Debbie made landfall, it was not only local residents and businesses that had cause for concern, but also crews working at a number of central Queensland’s coal mines, as well as the effect it would have on the region’s rail and port networks.

BHP Billiton’s South Walker Creek mine and Glencore’s Collinsville and Newlands operations were among those that closed for a period of time as Debbie passed through.
 
The major Queensland coal ports of Abbot Point, Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point were also closed, with rail freight company Aurizon ceasing deliveries to those ports during the duration of the cyclone.

The cleanup

The fallout from Cyclone Debbie throughout the state was shocking, but not the worst Queensland had seen.

Causing a temporary blip in mining operations, BHP Billiton confirmed all crews had returned to work across its coal mines and it was business as usual just five days later.
 
The company’s dewatering infrastructure, that was installed after the 2011 floods, had successfully weathered the storm, and all sites were resuming operations with mine production ramping up.

Glencore made a company announcement the day after Cyclone Debbie had made landfall, saying its North Queensland operations had withstood the impact, all its staff were safe and it had not received any damage to mine infrastructure.

Business remained normal at the company’s Oaky Creek, Clermont and Rolleston coal mines, Mount Isa copper and zinc operations and Ernest Henry Mining copper complex.

Rail freight company Aurizon’s network maintenance, engineering and civil teams spent more than four weeks repairing significant infrastructure damage caused by Cyclone Debbie and the consequent flood events.

The successful repairs and subsequent reopening of the Goonyella rail system on April 26 allowed coal services to operate from mines across the Goonyella system to export terminals at Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay.

Although affected itself, BHP Billiton agreed to commit $250,000 to provide immediate support to Queenslanders impacted by Cyclone Debbie.

Acting BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance Asset President Frans Knox said the donation to the Salvation Army helped deliver urgently needed services and support to regional Queensland communities such as Mackay and Moranbah.

“This is far from over for the people of Queensland,” Mr Knox said. “Many families have lost their homes and communities continue to be without power. Communications are relying on organisations like the Salvation Army for help.”

Aurizon employees lent a hand to help with the cleanup and recovery in the wake of Cyclone Debbie’s devastation.

Aurizon Vice President Operations Central Queensland Peter Cowan said there was a long tradition of Aurizon and its employees helping the community during natural disasters.

“While we have mobilised all infrastructure crews for recovery work, train drivers and other employees have capacity at the moment to help with community efforts,” he said.

“Aurizon employees live and work in these local communities affected by flooding, and it’s important we roll up our sleeves to help with flood preparation and recovery.

“There’s an extraordinary amount of community spirit, and when people are faced with these types of events, we all pitch in to do what we can to protect property and community assets.”

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