On the 3rd Feb 2011 Cyclone Yasi impacted on FNQLD. This category 5 cyclone packed winds of up to 290km/hr. It crossed the coast at Mission Beach before moving inland. Some of the more effected areas included Tully and Cardwell where communities had houses destroyed, essential services cut and many crops were destroyed.
On the 4th Feb a taskforce of 100 NSW SES members flew out to assist the residents of FNQLD. Arriving in Cairns the first thing that hit me was the humidity. I’m one of those people who love the heat but the humidity was a real surprise. Our first night was in the Lakes Resort at Cairns. In between briefings and relaxing in the pool I managed to duck out and grab a local cache.
Bright an early the next morning we were on a bus heading to Tully and Cardwell. As we headed south the magnitude of the cyclone became evident. Banana crops were destroyed, massive advertising signs beside the highway were blown over like match sticks, houses and sheds randomly destroyed. Once in Tully the full extent was witnessed, massive trees were uprooted, nearly every house suffered some form of damage. Cane trains were piled up like mangled pieces of metal while power lines littered the roads. Yet amongst all of the carnage the locals and the Army went about cleaning up.
Further down the coast and we made our way into Cardwell. Most of the time this sleepy hollow is a picture postcard with the Pacific Ocean on one side of the road, with parks and a few shops dotting the highway. Many in our taskforce could draw on previous experience to explain the beauty that once was this place. Now it was a town near completely destroyed. A 3m storm surge and 200km/hr winds had reeked havoc here. The highway was blocked by a metre of sand on it. Houses and business’s had roofs lifted off and water inundation. Many homes were only shells with nothing left inside. Power lines, bus shelters, trees and furniture littered every road. But already there were signs of repair. Large power poles, transformers and heavy earth moving equipment were arriving in town.
The local RSL would be our base for the next few days and we quickly established a command post. What remained of the first day was spent doing recon, before any work could start a picture of the damage had to ascertained. I was fortunate enough to elevated to strike team leader of sector south. It was here that my sector would witness destruction on a mass scale. Sector South was the home of Hinchinbrook Mariner and the multi-million dollar homes.
With rain still falling we made our way into the field and were faced with scenes previously unseen before. Some residents had already started the massive clean up while other homes looked deserted. As we made our way around the streets words can’t describe some of the scenes. Multi million dollar mansions had been totally trashed, mud littered the floors of every house, cyclone roofs were holed like pin cushions, fenced and palm trees were flattened, which in itself was dangerous cause that meant the local crocodiles could roam freely.
It wasn’t long before we set eyes on the mariner and it was here that the full extent of damage was seen. The cyclone and storm surge had totally destroyed the mariner. Hundreds of boats were either on the bottom of the harbour, on top of other boats or washed up into residents’ yards. This was a scene unfathomable and unbelievable. The cost of peoples loss in this area was beyond comprehension. After the initial shock we continued about our business and by days end we had recon’d the whole area.
Our day’s adventure wasn’t over yet as our accommodation details had been revised and we now had to drive back to Innisfail. It was here that we finally got a bed for the night, in the local showground, specifically the horse pavilion. It certainly wasn’t the 5 star resort of the previous night but it was fitting to the situation we’d witnessed today.
The following day and subsequent 2 days were pretty much 3 days of standard storm damage callouts. The only difference being that every house in our southern sector was of the massive scale and we had very limited tools to undertake any repairs. My 7-team strike force shared 2 chainsaws, 2 ladders and 3 RSK’s amongst them, we didn’t have a hammer, nails or tilers batten. But we made the best of what we had and every resident was appreciative of the job we did. While the work wasn’t hard, it was hard working in the unfamiliar humidity.
As we navigated our way around the wealthy streets of Hinchinbrook Estate it was easy to see “what money can buy”. Some of the houses we visited were 3-storey, multiple bathroom and bedrooms, full size billiard tables, swimming pools and indoor spas were a common feature, then there was the water craft that adorned every house. This place was right out of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” and here we were helping fix their houses.
In the following days, heavy machinery started arriving at the mariner and the arduous task of recovering the damaged boats begun. Many of the boats were loaded onto semi trailers and carted around to the nearby dry-dock while various vessels did their bit to drag other boats back into the water. It’s a sight I wont forget for a long time to come.
Away from the mariner 2 of my strike teams worked their way through an acreage style estate where there had been mass tree job style damage. This was another unique experience as every tree had been stripped bare by the cyclonic winds. Trees that appeared to have survived a bushfire were in actual fact sticks left standing, leaves stripped by the cyclone.
By the end of our 5th day, many of our taskforce were looking forward to heading home. The heat had taken its toll on a few members and after driving back to Cairns, we were treated to a final night at the Lakes Resort.
Our adventure had one final twist to it. As we departed for Cairns airport we were informed that the wealthy mining magnate “Clive Palmer” had offered to fly us all back to Sydney on his personal jet as a sign of gratitude for the fantastic job we’d done in supporting the victims of Cyclone Yasi. What a great gesture it was and a very memorable flight.
To conclude I’d like to thank the guys of my strike force team who my job so much easier. You guys are the real heroes.