How did Cyclone Tracy impact on the environment?
Cyclone Tracy, 1974, ended in almost complete destruction, which
caused a catastrophic disruption to Darwin.
Water supplies were down as Darwin's supply was contaminated and
there were no clean supplies. Sewerage lines were cut, resulting in
a lack of sanitation, and poisons therefore leached out into the
environment. Surprisingly, there was not a lot of drenching rain or
storm surge associated with Cyclone Tracy, so none of the usual
problems resulted from that quarter.
Trees were uprooted, and animal habitats destroyed. Witnesses
reported absolute silence the following morning, signalling the
loss of the majority of bird life at that time. As with any such
natural disaster, the food chain was broken, and it was many months
before food chain order was reestablished among the various
species. The beaches were strewn with dead marine or
Cyclone Tracy's environmental impact was quite large
- litter was in the ocean, destroying animals' habitats
- trees were uprooted and turned over
- metal, glass and other debris was thrown all over town
- gardens were pulled out of the ground
Many coral reefs, fish and animals were damaged and are still
Wind speeds of 217 km/h registered at Darwin Airport before the
equipment was itself blown away and there were estimates of maximum
speeds of up to 300 km/h.
Seeing this destruction also brings home another matter - Darwin
is a very new city simply because there was almost nothing left
standing when Tracy had finished her work.
With so much destruction of both homes and infrastructure, the
population of about 45,000 was reduced to about 10,000 by a mass
evacuation of people to other Australian cities. This was organised
by Major-General Alan Stretton, Director-General of the Natural
Disasters Organisation and Minister for the Northern Territory, Rex
Many of the families that left never returned and the rebuilding
attracted people from many different places resulting in a young,
diverse population who rebuilt the city.
After the cyclone building codes were upgraded dramatically to
try to prevent such extensive damage next time a cyclone passed by.
And the rebuilding was largely done by the NT Housing Commission
using only a limited number of designs on a large scale. At one
stage nearly 90% of homes in Darwin were owned by either Government
Departments or large national companies such as banks.