Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cairns was on the northern fringe of the terrible cyclone, Yasi.

We have been living in North Queensland Australia for a long time and have lived through many cyclones, but never a category five cyclone like Yasi and with such a huge diameter. Early indications were that it was heading straight for Cairns. This was a frightening prospect and everybody was very apprehensive about the dire situation facing the people between Cairns and those living in our northern beaches close to the ocean.
The predicted tidal surge didn’t worry us, since we are 1.1 Km from the beach. However, I was told by my son, a builder, that no house in Yorkeys Knob was build to withstand a category five cyclone. We were also strongly advised by the authorities to evacuate to a higher and safer place. This persuaded us to evacuate. Our good friends, Hans & Dulcie Hellwig with two cyclone shelters below their house urged us to stay with them to see the cyclone through.
It was a very difficult decision to make, as we could only take a few important things with us and leave everything else behind not knowing if we come back to a heap of rubble.
On Wednesday morning we prepared to leave; it was a big scramble and, having to decide what to take with us in the car and what to leave behind. This was a very stressful time for us. I never thought that I would be required to evacuate our house in Australia, my previous evacuation was in 1940 during WW2

We loaded the car with family pictures, important papers, valuable items, including our computers and headed to Hans and Dulcie. The driveway to their house is 400 metres up the hill, and the house is about fifty metres meters below the Kuranda railway line.
When I listened at 10 pm to my car radio, a person from Airlie Beach (About 500 Km south from Cairns) said that they had very strong winds since 3 pm and we had hardly any, this gave me some hope that we were on the very outer northern periphery of Yasi and that proved in the end to be right. Some suburbs in Cairns lost electricity as early as 7 pm, others never lost it, and our electricity went off at 10.30 pm. See map for town locations. Click to enlarge.

Between 11pm an 1 am we had occasional strong gusts of wind accompanied with terrifying “Yasi howls.” Nobody got any sleep, we were just lying down on mattresses and waiting for the cyclone to make landfall. At 2 am I went upstairs and decided to listen to the car radio, and I learnt that the cyclone had come through the towns of Mission Beach, Cardwell and Tully. That meant that it was over, but our thoughts were directed towards our house; we were not sure what we would find when we get home. In the morning we contacted the police to find out if the road to Yorkeys Knob was open for traffic, and they said that it was..
We had some breakfast, and then left for home at 8 am on Thursday morning, (3.2.2011) we were very apprehensive of what we might see. So ,the first thing we saw, to our relief, was that the house was still standing and that the neighbour’s big tree was across our driveway and “resting” on top of our roof. I made my way through the tree branches and started my generator so that I could get the fridges going again and use my electric chainsaw to cut the branches down so that I could drive the car in. I had a mere 5 cm of space underneath the tree trunk to drive the car into the carport.
We have a cement brick wall with a number of holes in it in front of our house with green ivy growing on it (I call it “Our green wall”) it stops the hot afternoon sun from reaching our front windows. There is a 2 metre space between the wall and the house and this space is covered with transparent corrugated fibre glass, so the tree punched a lot of holes in it and it leaks like a sieve, and it will have to be replaced. So this will be our only claim with the insurance. Cairns had been extremely lucky that the eye of Yasi crossed the coast about 150 Km south of it. Like the German proverb says, “We got away with a black eye”. In other words we got away easy and if we think of the poor people in Mission Beach, Cardwell, and Tully who took the brunt of Yasi and, the flood victims in the Lockyer Valley and Brisbane, we have nothing to complain about. Click on picture to enlarge!
We had plenty of broken tree branches and one broken banana tree with a banana bunch only a couple of weeks away from ripening; I propped it up so that it is above ground, hopefully it will get yellow before I die. :-)
The next thing was, after I got the generator going, to ring 4 family members and friends who were concerned about us prior to the cyclone, after the fourth call, the phone went dead, and that applied to the whole of Yorkeys Knob. The Mobile did not work either, so we were totally cut off, as far as communication was concerned – it wasn’t a good feeling. It was almost like living on the moon.
Shortly after the SES (State Emergency Service) crew arrived with chain saws and wanted to cut the tree. I said to the leader, “hang on a minute, I want to take a picture first so that I can show it to the insurance.” When I got the camera, the battery was flat and I asked them to come back later. At 4 pm they came back in the middle of a tropical downpour and I noticed that the leader had already cut halve the trunk through in the middle and I stopped him in the track, telling him that if he cut it through, the top half will plummet down and cause more damage on the roof and knock the security light off as well. I told them that they deserve to knock of in this type of weather as they had already worked hard all day. Our praise goes to these dedicated people who worked hard in pouring rain to clear debris from the roads and chop up blown down trees.
When the rain had stopped at around 5 pm I went up to the roof with my chain saw, to the very displeasure of my wife, Karola. My grandson arrived, a neighbour came across and a utility (Australian term for delivery truck) with strangers stopped to help; they were carrying away what I cut off. So, in no time the tree was removed without any further damage to the roof over my green wall. To my chagrin, I couldn’t offer them a beer as I had none in the fridge.

On Friday 2 pm we had a very heavy storm, which brought nearly 300 mm of rain per square metre in 2 hours. Lightening struck the electric pole in front of our place; it was awfully loud and nearly lifted us off our chairs.

Electricity was off in Yorkeys Knob since Wednesday 10 pm. However we were lucky to have a generator and we had light, fans, TV and all our fridges and freezers were running.
At 10 pm on Friday Yorkeys Knob had power again, except us, and two neighbours. The reason for this was the pole fuse box was knocked down by the lightening strike and was lying on the ground. Finally our mobile was working again. It is a long story about the hassles and frustrations I experienced with trying to ring Telstra (Telephone Co.) and Ergon, (Electricity) but I won’t bother you with that.
A tank full of fuel made the generator run for 5 hours and we had to close the windows and doors nearby to reduce the noise inside the house; we didn’t sleep well since Wednesday night as we had to get up during the night and switch the generator off, then, with Karola holding the torch, I checked the oil level and refuelled the generator.
On Saturday and Sunday; our generator was the only one running in Yorkeys Knob. At 1 am Sunday morning we hear human noises and we thought that an Ergon crew may be outside to install the broken fuse. No, that was not the case, a short while after, there was a knock at our sunroom door where the light was on. I opened the door in my underpants and there were two policemen in front of me. They told me that the neighbour behind us (He was not there long) told them that an old fellow lives over there, who may not have realised that the electricity is back on, because he has still the generator going. I told them what had happened and why the generator was still running and I said, “Why on earth didn’t he come over in the daytime and talk to me”? He would also have seen a sign I attached to the electricity pole; saying “The following houses, (I gave the numbers) have still no electricity.”
Our two gates were looked and the police discovered that they could lift out a small fence panel between our carport and the neighbour’s carport fence. They had to move through a space of 60cm and make their way past our low orange tree branches, bushes, passion fruit vines and satellite disc to get to our sunroom door on the other side of the house. After they were ready to leave, one of them asked me if there was an easier way to get out than the way they came in. I led them to the back gate, barefoot and in my underpants, showed them the power pole fuse on the ground and the sign I had attached to the pole.

Ironically, our daughter in Cairns never lost the electricity or the telephone, so I was there on Monday for six hours to make phone calls and check my e-mail on her computer I had over 300 e-mails. At 10am (Monday 7.2. 2011) I finally got through to Testra and talked to a Woman in the Philippines, where the call centre is, and she promised that Telstra will fix our problem by late afternoon Tuesday. But I thought this was not good enough, so, I went on to the Cairns Radio Talkback show and told John Mackenzie about our problem and gave him my mobile phone number. Half an hour later John had the northern CEO of Telstra, a lady, on his talk back show and he told her about our problem and being the only one in Yorkeys Knob without a phone connection; he also gave her our mobile number. Karola was shortly afterwards practically "inundated" with visitors, who heard me pleading my case on radio; they all asked if they could do anything for her – the wonderful Australian spirit shone through again.
When I finally got home after 4 pm Karola said that the phone was working again and that the Telstra CEO Lady rang her and told her that the fault was fixed and that it was in the phone exchange. We finally got the electricity back on Sunday (6.2.2011) at 6 pm, what a relief that was. It was a terrible 5 days, but we consider ourselves lucky, a lot more people are much worse off.

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The moral of this story is: There are always more people worse of than us; we have nothing to complain about. - Werner


Harry Miller said...

Thank God you are ok and were looked after an answer to our prayers Harry Miller Gold Coast .I have tried to ring on Skype but no answer

Renee said...

Interesting story. Mother Nature certainly challenges us sometimes! But so glad to hear that you are both ok.