Tennant Creek takes cover

Shelter organisers were galvanized to prepare safe havens from Cyclone Trevor as the huge and unrelenting tempest bore down on the Northern Territory.

In Tennant Creek, preparing the town’s civic hall to receive refugees became the job of Paula Ridge, the Barkly’s Director of Quality School Systems and Support (QSSS), who had taken up residence just five weeks before.

Although the high intensity storm began to lose momentum as it tracked towards Tennant Creek, Ms Ridge said outfitting the shelter was crucial to the 60 adults and children who eventually took sanctuary there.

“The hall was pivotal to the safety of Tennant Creek residents whose lodgings were inadequate to sustain the onslaught of the wind and persistent rain,” she said. “But until I began coordinating the set-up, I’d never set foot in the place.

“I had to find 12 council and two education-related staff to make ready a building with a maximum capacity of 140 people.

“Once the arrangements were finalised, volunteers were needed to work three people per shift in a 26-hour roster. The education staff who responded on such short notice included the principal and assistant principal of Tennant Creek High School, QSSS personnel, and three staff from Rockhampton Downs School.”

Paula Ridge provided support and advice to principals throughout the Barkly region before, during, and after the storm, including those of Rockhampton Downs and Corella Creek schools— both in evacuated communities.

She also kept the department’s Emergency Management Committee apprised of school staff migrations, and developed a protocol for tracing the movements of displaced staff to safe locations.

“In the days before the cyclone, it was coming really close to Tennant Creek and the expected rainfall was 150 to 200mm,” she said. “Because Tennant Creek hadn’t received water for months, the presence of long-lasting static water and flash flooding were concerns.

“But whether it involved working on staffing and rostering, creating signs, ensuring there was bottled water, stationery for the kids, a police presence or dealing with the media, it was a very interesting learning curve and a fascinating exposure to another facet of the job.”

Paula Ridge

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