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Babies born between cyclones

AFP
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Born between two cyclones, three-week-old Jasmine Greenaway is a picture of serenity amongst the preparations in Nhulunbuy for Tropical Cyclone Nathan, which is predicted to hit the small town on Sunday morning.

Tropical Cyclone Nathan, which is currently crossing the Cape York peninsula, is forecast to re-form in the Gulf of Carpentaria and gather strength as it moves west towards Arnhem Land.

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On Friday evening, tracking maps estimated the system would be a category two when it makes landfall almost directly over Nhulunbuy, a mining town of about 4,500 people on the Gove Peninsula jutting into the tropical Arafura Sea.

One month ago, Severe Tropical Cyclone Lam was forecast to do the same; Jasmine’s mother, Jessica Greenaway, had to decide whether to hunker down in Nhulunbuy – which would not have an operating maternity ward during the cyclone – or alternatively to evacuate to Darwin to give birth.

The dilemma of the young mother, and her decision to remain in Nhulunbuy with her husband, made national headlines.

“It worked out for the best,” she said at a mothers’ group on Friday, with newborn Jasmine sleeping in her lap under a calm sky.

“If I pushed a baby out during the cyclone I would definitely name my baby after the cyclone,” another mother, Jess Kerr said.

A third mother, Emily Fox, said that nine months after Cyclone Rusty hit Port Hedland, the Pilbara town was full of newborns named Rusty.

Cyclones in the Gulf are notoriously difficult to predict and, as it turned out, Tropical Cyclone Lam barely scratched Nhulunbuy.

It veered north, rounding the corner of Arnhem Land before pivoting south and passing over Galiwinku about 130km to the west of Nhulunbuy.

Nhulunbuy has never been directly hit by a major cyclone. In 2006 category five Cyclone Monica passed 120km to the north-east.

“We’ve dodged a bullet a few times,” a local told the ABC, submitting his own unproven theory the peninsula diverted cyclones to either side.

Emergency services, however, have taken a more cautious line.

Emergency services prepare Nhulunbuy for Nathan

Forty representatives for police, paramedics, government and Aboriginal corporations met in Nhulunbuy to share the latest forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) and discuss possible road closures due to flooding.

They are confident the work done preparing for Tropical Cyclone Lam one month ago – doing things such as felling trees and clearing yards of loose scrap – has given them a head start preparing for Tropical Cyclone Nathan.

Emergency services meet in Nhulunbuy
Emergency services meet in Nhulunbuy. Photo: AFP

“I think we are prepared,” said George Barayuwa, chairman of the Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation, which is based in the Yirrkala Indigenous community near Nhulunbuy.

“I’m telling people be alert. Get your get food, get your stuff. Get your things that are going to fly over like iron or something.”

But in the neighbourhood centre across the road behind the community op-shop, the mothers’ group admits to being a little “blasé”.

“We still have the radio and the battery and torches,” Ms Greenaway said.

“I just need to buy some water.”

Ms Fox said cyclone preparation in Nhulunbuy was more “relaxed” than in Port Hedland, which is on Australia’s most dangerous cyclone coast.

The other mothers tended to agree.

“Because there’s never been a bad one and no direct hits people are pretty blasé about it,” Ms Katz said.

Their greatest concern right now is supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and perishables like meat.

The weekly grocery barge from Darwin is likely to be stranded in Nhulunbuy by Tropical Cyclone Nathan, which means it will only come again in a fortnight.

“My husband has to go to a Billy Idol concert in Cairns on Sunday,” Ms Greenaway said.

“He said, ‘if I can’t fly out I’m driving out’.”

A mothers' group in Nhulunbuy meets before Tropical Cyclone Nathan nears the town
Mothers in Nhulunbuy meets before the cyclone hits. Photo: AFP

Another concern is the Ladies Fishing Classic – an annual angling competition.

Meant to run over two days this weekend, it has been scaled back due to concerns about the choppy conditions.

Like many mining towns, Nhulunbuy has a transient population, and many of the new arrivals will be new to cyclone preparation.

Nhulunbuy’s alumina refinery closed in November 2013 due to the high cost of providing energy to the power hungry operations.

Only last year, the population was about 2,500, but locals have said since Christmas a flood of new arrivals has almost doubled that figure.

“It must be all the new people in town,” a supermarket employee said about a slightly busier day at work.

“Because we’re used to it.”

 

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