When most people were celebrating Christmas day in 1974, in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia a tropical cyclone, known as Cyclone Tracey destroyed a large part of the city. It was one of the biggest disaster that Australia has ever faced. The cyclone killed 66 people and in 1974 dollars, it caused a reported A$837 million in damages (in today’s dollars, that is around $4.5 billion!). Almost three-quarters of the building in Darwin were destroyed. The city had a population of 47 000, of which 41 000 were left without homes following the cyclone. During the crisis most of the population were evacuated to other cities, with most going to Adelaide, Alice Springs and Sydney. A lot did not return to Darwin. Thirty one aircraft were destroyed with many more damaged at the airport. The city has been rebuilt with more modern building materials and updated standards to make the homes more resistant to future threats. The city of Darwin now has a population of 136 000 people. Due to the location of Darwin and news media coverage and the technology of the day, most of Australia did not know of the cyclone and its consequences until late on Christmas day. All official communications channels in Darwin were also destroyed, which hampered search and rescue efforts. The government responded on Christmas day to the crisis, sending in military ships with supplies and beginning the evacuation of those who were homeless. Several health concerns were raised due to the damage to the water supply and lack of sanitation services.
The actual cyclone was the most compact cyclone recorded in Australia, with the gale-force winds extending only 48 kilometres from the epicentre It formed over the Arafura Sea, then moved southwards and hit Darwin with Category 4 winds (on the Australian cyclone intensity scale). They probably reached a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale when it hot the city on the 25 December 1974.