Coming home from work this morning I was caught by a short, heavy downpour. It had been raining intermittently throughout the evening but nothing like this.
Figuring I was about to be drenched running from the car into the house, I made to curse the rain, before quickly checking myself. This was nothing compared to what cyclone ravaged residents of Far North Queensland are currently experiencing. At least I had an intact house to shelter in.
Earlier in the evening I received a call from a friend in Innisfail. ‘Mate, it’s un-fucking-believable’, exclaimed Chris, a man not easily given to hyperbole. ‘It’s an absolute disaster. There’s people here sleeping in cars and tents, and it’s still raining !’.
Little wonder given Innisfail was directly in the path of Cyclone Larry, the strongest Australian cyclone in living memory. Pretty much every house is damaged with many being demolition jobs.
From the air it appears as if God cranked up the whipper-snipper and spent an hour indiscriminately slashing everything reachable. And he wasn’t using some Home Hardware, electric model either. We’re talking industrial slashing over a wide area with estimates of a billion dollars damage to homes, farmlands and infrastructure.
Chris is the mate I mentioned earlier who lives on a yacht, the Madame Wong. With a real sense of foreboding he’d quickly moved beforehand to secure the boat. Normally he’s located in Innisfail township, at a deep water mooring on the Johnstone River. Fully aware this was the last place to be once Larry arrived, he moved the Madame far up a tributary, deep in the mangroves.
There he’d lashed the boat to either side of the banks, using 200 foot of heavy-duty marine ropes fitted with spring-tensioners. Yet this barely saved him from the onslaught of 300 kph (175mph) winds. ‘Mate, the boat was airborne !’ he said. No mean feat as the steel-hulled Madame Wong weighs twenty-eight tons. Luckily damage is superficial.
A few days ago I spoke to friends in Mission Beach, an idyllic tourist village a half-hour south of Innisfail. One couple live in an area surrounded by tropical wet-lowland rainforest. ‘You know the rainforest’, my friend said, ‘well it’s gone. All that’s left are bare trunks, stripped of the canopy and foliage. We can see right through to the street now where once it was totally obstructed’. They were lucky, as the impenetrable bush afforded them some protection from the devastating winds. The only damage sustained was relatively minor, from falling timber landing on the house.
Not so lucky was another mate, Ron at South Mission Beach. His elevated home opposite Dunk Island faces the ocean and was totally exposed. Throughout the cyclone eight local families took refuge in his sunken basement games room. Typical. He's a good bloke like that, yet lost the top half of his house.
However as Chris pointed out, the most amazing aspect of Cyclone Larry was the lack of fatalities, or even serious injury. For an event rated worse than Cyclone Tracy, which claimed 70 lives, this is unbelievable and a testament to modern building codes and the ability of the locals to withstand some of the worst weather nature can mount.
Best wishes to all of them.