Devastating legacy of Alby lingers

Saskia AdystiAlbany Advertiser

It has been 40 years since cyclone Alby hit Albany and WA’s south coast but memories of its devastating impact still linger.

When the category four cyclone hit Albany on April 4, 1978, damage to the area amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars and two Albany men drowned when their dinghy overturned in the severe weather.

A 42-year-old Kendenup woman also died while fighting a bushfire ignited by the cyclone.

Damage to Albany’s historic convent.
Camera IconDamage to Albany’s historic convent. Credit: Coral Hoffbeck

It was a perfect storm.

The cyclone system moved off WA’s north-west coast in late March, intensifying before it headed south, clipping Perth and the South West.

An approaching cold front added power to the system as it passed Albany.

At the time, former Albany Advertiser journalist Chris Pash vividly recalled the cyclone’s impact.

The Albany Advertiser 1978.
Camera IconThe Albany Advertiser 1978.

“The first sign was when the power went off in the Premier Hotel where I was in for farewell drinks,” he said.

“I walked outside and was almost blown over by the strength of the wind.”

Albany was battered by record winds, which reached 150km/h, destroying coastal structures including Middleton beach, which still suffers from erosion issues created by the storm.

Dozens of businesses were damaged in Albany.
Camera IconDozens of businesses were damaged in Albany. Credit: Coral Hoffbeck

Mr Pash said he helped a man at Emu Point get his small boat out of the water during the cyclone, and saw colleague Ed Smidt capturing pictures of a burning garage.

“It was a wild night, a series of surreal images, whipped by biting wind,” he said.

The cyclone also blew widespread fires across Denmark, Walpole and Mt Barker, which burnt about 114,000ha of forest and farming land.

A telephone box toppled.
Camera IconA telephone box toppled. Credit: Coral Hoffbeck

Roger Underwood was 37 years old when the cyclone hit his home town of Manjimup. The sound of the roaring winds that came with Alby still haunts him.

“It howled and screamed and it went on for hours,” he said. “The glass was bending in on the windows and people’s roofs were coming off.”

Mr Underwood is now collecting memories of cyclone Alby survivors as part of a memoir.

The cyclone remains the most devastating natural disaster to hit south-west WA, with an estimated damage bill of $39 million.

“There were some fantastically heroic people, helping one another and keeping each other alive,” Mr Underwood said.

“If it was a war then these people would have been given a medal.”

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