26 January 1998
The Katherine Flood was caused by Cyclone Les. Intense rainfall occurred during "king high tides" in the Timor Sea that pushed water from the lower reaches upstream, as a result, floodwater drainage was impeded. Flooding was most severe in Katherine where flooding began 24 January. Many residents were evacuated to cyclone shelters, while several others were stranded on rooftops. By 26 January, roads north and south from Katherine were closed due to rising floodwaters, and personnel from RAAF joined local police and emergency services to assist with sandbagging critical infrastructure. Some 5000 residents were evacuated as an estimated 500 businesses and 1200 homes were inundated by floodwaters, including the Katherine District Hospital. On 27 January, a state of emergency was declared for Katherine River reached a level of 20.3 m. The floodwaters peaked at 20.4 m at the Katherine railway bridge, passing the previous record of 19.3m during major flooding in 1957. The cyclone dumped over 380mm of rainfall in the area within a 48-hour period, leaving water up to 2 m through much of the town. The flooding forced at least 2,000 people out of their homes and killed 3 people. Total damages from the storm amounted to at least A$100 million. The economic impact of the disaster on the town of Katherine was significant. Of the estimated $200 million damages, only $70 million was insured and many local businesses were forced to close. The pastoral industry, worth over $60 million annually to the region was badly affected by the loss of whole herds of livestock to the rising waters. In a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister who offered the usual disaster assistance John Howard asked the simple question of the Chief Minister, 'What more can I do'. The request was that the Prime Minister travels to Katherine to lend support and comfort to Territorians who had lost everything. Within 24 hours John and Jeanette Howard were on the ground in Katherine. This kind of national leadership typified the Howards and set a very good example for his successors including Prime Minister Scott Morrison who toured the NW Queensland flood in early 2019. This photograph shows the inundation of the towns commercial centre. The local member for Katherine and Deputy Chief Minister Mike Reed played a critically important co-ordination role throughout supported by his wife Anne (they lost their family home in the flood). Subsequently Josephine Stone Chaired the Red Cross Appeal that raised over $2 million in flood relief.