Region better off to weather cyclones

Headshot of Michael Philipps
Michael PhilippsSouth Western Times
Bunbury SES local manager Chris Widmer stands where water flooded the streets in East Bunbury following Cyclone Alby.
Camera IconBunbury SES local manager Chris Widmer stands where water flooded the streets in East Bunbury following Cyclone Alby. Credit: South Western Times, Jon Gellweiler

When Cyclone Alby struck the South West it was the first operation for Bunbury State Emergency Service volunteer Chris Widmer and launched a long career in the field.

Forty years later, he is still working in emergency services as the local manager of the Bunbury SES.

“I had signed on about a week before but that was certainly the first operation that I was involved in,” Mr Widmer said.

“Initially we were tasked to go out to Roelands to clear the roads for the evacuation of the properties up there because of the fires.

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“We finished the day there and we were challenged to go back to Bunbury for the flooding.

“So one minute we were up to our armpits in fire and the next minute we were using a steel rod to find where the Australind road was near the estuary – so we wouldn’t end up in the estuary.

“So in the space of two hours we had actually gone from one to the other.”

Mr Widmer said the cyclone was the first chance for him to appreciate the damage fire and water could do.

“For me there was sort of a watershed moment where I realised that we are a bit more vulnerable than what a 20-year-old would normally think,” he said.

“It was a surprise how widespread the event was and obviously significant flooding was something I hadn’t seen before.”

Mr Widmer said the cyclone made him realise there was an opportunity to help the community.

“One of the great things about my role has been seeing the mitigation strategies that have been put in place since the event,” he said.

“You look at the floodgates, you look at the levies on the estuary which we all love walking around, they were put there as a result of Cyclone Alby.

“We are far better off than we were in those days.”

Mr Widmer said he urged the community to become more involved with emergency services.

“Volunteering is something we are struggling with a bit,” he said.

“Typically there are a lot of jobs around town that people could do and while they are doing those they are more aware of their vulnerabilities.”

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