Exmouth commemorates 20th anniversary of Cyclone Vance

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Former Exmouth nurse Trish Deering and volunteer firefighter Gary Deering, who spoke at the Cyclone Vance 20th anniversary commemoration event.
Camera IconFormer Exmouth nurse Trish Deering and volunteer firefighter Gary Deering, who spoke at the Cyclone Vance 20th anniversary commemoration event. Credit: Shire of Exmouth

Just over 20 years ago, severe tropical Cyclone Vance roared over the town of Exmouth, wreaking widespread damage on the seaside tourist town.

The category five system — one of the strongest cyclones ever to affect mainland Australia — caused some $35 million damage to the town, destroyed 100 houses and left 2000 people homeless.

Last Friday, members of the Exmouth community, and current and former residents who experienced Vance, gathered to remember the disaster and how the community came together in its aftermath, at a commemoration ceremony at the Ningaloo Centre attended by more than 100 people.

Long-term Exmouth resident Tim Niikkula, who attended the ceremony, said Cyclone Vance had been a defining event for the town and the people who lived through it.

“It was a relief to be alive. The horror of the damage was unbelievable — afterwards, every time you went around the corner there was more damage and it was worse,” he said.

“It was great to see the amount of people that did go down (to the event) and share their experiences and reflect upon what did happen and how the town did survive.

“It’s something you don’t think about every day, but every time there’s a cyclone warning somewhere, it’s in the back of your mind.”

Trish Geering, who was a nurse in Exmouth during Cyclone Vance, said through people banding together, the town had come out of the experience stronger for it.

“That kind of disaster brings out the best and worst in people ... there were so many positive things and cases of the community coming together,” she said.

“People went out of their way to help people they barely even knew, by just getting in and doing simple practical tasks.

“It was really heartwarming.”

Former Shire clerk Kerry Graham said Cyclone Vance had made a lasting impact on those who went through it.

“There were quite a number of people who left here afterwards and never came back ... and others who came back but didn’t stay a long time,” he said.

“It was a place of total destruction and it took a long time for people to get over it.

“I doubt there was a house in town that didn’t suffer some damage.

“It was pretty traumatic for the people who were here.”

Shire of Exmouth chief executive Cameron Woods said the cyclone had been a traumatic experience for those who lived through it, but had also shown the community’s resilience.

“Despite the destruction and heartache, Cyclone Vance shaped our community in many positive ways,” he said.

“We hope today’s commemoration was an opportunity to focus on the connections and friendships that were forged during such a difficult time.

“It is also a reminder that we cannot be complacent and we must all work together to make sure our community is well prepared for cyclone events.”

Attendees also paused to acknowledge other Pilbara towns bracing for Cyclone Veronica further up the coast.

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