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Darwin braces itself on Tracy anniversary as threat of holiday cyclone increases

| 24.12,11. 10:25 AM |



Darwin braces itself on Tracy anniversary as threat of holiday cyclone increases

December 24, 2011.

Weather forecasters have upgraded the threat of a cyclone that could hit Darwin on the 37th anniversary of the devastation caused by cyclone Tracy.

An official cyclone warning was declared late yesterday, indicating gale force winds could affect the mainland within the next 24 hours.

The move is an upgrade on the threat level from a cyclone watch, which was put in place on Wednesday.

Advertisement: Story continues below The Bureau of Meteorology's regional director in Darwin, Andrew Tupper, said the tropical low in the Arafura Sea is looking more like becoming a cyclone, prompting the warning upgrade.

''The only thing that will stop it becoming a cyclone is if it hits land first,'' Dr Tupper said.

''The longer it stays over water the more intense it could become, but at this stage it is below cyclone strength.''

Despite the impending threat, Darwin businessman Dwyn Delaney is predicting a ''fizzer''.

''I'm just going to make sure I've got plenty of green cans and the biggest leg of ham and I reckon I'll be right,'' he said last night. ''I'm a cyclone expert now because of the simple reason I did everything wrong last time [in 1974] … We went out partying.''

Mr Delaney, who is Darwin born and bred, has vivid memories of cyclone Tracy in 1974.

''Like everyone else, I nearly got killed,'' he said.

''It was like getting shot at for about six hours, you couldn't put your head up. The whole house just exploded and the wind just didn't abate.''

Despite his experience, Mr Delaney plans to watch the Boxing Day Test from the safety of his undisturbed lounge room.

''I honestly don't think [the cyclone] will happen, but some people are running around panicking and buying water and supplies,'' he said.

''We just have to hang in there and go with the flow.''

But Darwin's National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre executive director Len Notaras warned against complacency.

''There's certainly no complacency in emergency services that are responding, but quite often for those who haven't been through something like this before, there's a little bit of bravado and complacency,'' Dr Notaras told The Saturday Age.

''The worst possible thing anyone could do is stock up on grog because that really would blur and shade the margins if you were trying to respond to something so critical,'' he said.

Dr Notaras said there was a sense of high alert and vigilance in Darwin, and the imminent threat could rekindle the ''sheer terror'' of cyclone Tracy.

''It definitely rekindles the anxiety and all of the tensions that are involved, particularly when there's a weather pattern such as this,'' he said.

''Being Christmas, the fact that it is lurking about at this stage heightens the expectation.''

The cyclone warning includes coastal areas from Cape Don on the Cobourg Peninsula north-east of Darwin, to Milingimbi, about 500 kilometres east of Darwin, with gale warnings issued for Darwin and the Tiwi Islands.

Forecasters expect the low to become a cyclone either late on Saturday or early on Sunday.

Dr Tupper said meteorologists were having trouble tracking the centre of the storm but it appeared to be travelling slowly eastwards.

The Bureau of Meteorology has said gales with gusts to 110 km/h were expected to develop late on Saturday or early on Sunday.

Cyclone Tracy started out as a tropical low that formed on December 20, 1974, and gradually intensified.

On December 24 it hit Darwin and despite warnings, the city's residents were largely unprepared.

Forty-nine people were killed by the cyclone on land, while another 22 were killed at sea. Most of the city's buildings were either totally destroyed or badly damaged.

Northern Territory authorities have warned people within the watch area to put together an emergency kit, clear their yards and balconies and commence home shelter preparations.



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