Five years ago emergency sandbagging had to be undertaken to protect homes.
Five years ago emergency sandbagging had to be undertaken to protect homes.

Cyclones pose a bigger threat


We have all watched in horror the terrifying scenes of death and destruction in Asia that were the result of a tsunami on Boxing Day.

We have seen entire villages and towns wiped out and a death toll of more than 150,000.

Millions and millions of people in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are homeless.

People around the world are now asking the question, "Could it happen to us".

Here in Australia, the majority of our population is located on the coast - just like those in the affected countries.

And it is those people who lived on the coast in South Asia that bore the brunt of the devastating tsunami.

And experts have warned that such a disaster, although rare, could happen again.

Tsunami expert, Associate Professor Ted Bryant, Associate Dean Of Science at Wollongong University said Australia was vulnerable to earthquake-triggered tsunamis and volcanotriggered tsunamis, such as the one that killed 36,000 people in Indonesia after Krakatoa exploded in 1883.

Professor Bryant said the only real action coastal communities could take was to make sure their warning procedures were in place, so predictions could reach them before a tsunami did.

Probably of more concern to Australia though is the damage that cyclones have wrought on coastal communities.

Byron Shire mayor Cr Jan Barham said Byron Shire had many lessons to learn from the Asian tsunami.

"Although the chances of a tsunami are rare, the chances of severe storm damage to beachfront properties is a real likelihood," she said.

"There has been a rise in sea level and if we get huge swells combined with flooding in the catchment area then the potential for major damage is real.

"There are enormous problems for communities that are built close to the ocean and here in Byron Shire we have been facing these problems for many years."

Cr Barham said she had reports from Sri Lanka that many coastal communities which had been devastated by the tsunami would be allowed to be rebuilt, but all buildings would have to be at least 100 metres off the beach.

"In South Asia it was the poor people who lived on the coast, the rich lived on higher ground," Cr Barham said.

"Here in Australia, it is the reverse. The rich people live close to the beach."

Byron Shire Council recently voted to adopt the long-awaited Coastline Management Plan and selected the 'retreat' option to deal with coastal erosion at Byron Bay and New Brighton.

The council has called for a report based on an ownership and development audit and the financial implications of the planned retreat option.

Another option put before councillors for protecting properties at Belongil Beach was a sand nourishment project that would cost $20 million and the $240,000 a year over 50 years to maintain.

A similar project at new Brighton would initially cost $6.2 million, plus $50,000 a year.

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