Well, we survived.
Tropical Cyclone Damien came crashing through Karratha on Friday night, stayed around the town like a biker gang in a 70s Ozploitation movie for most of Saturday, and made its exit in time for us to break out the shovels and chainsaws Sunday afternoon to engage in the long and dispiriting task of cleaning up.
A cyclone brings life to a standstill. We’d been back at work for four days, but when the Yellow Alert was sounded on Thursday afternoon that immediately meant school was closed. Rather than delivering lessons and cleaning up dropped crap after the kids had bundled out of the room, the day became a cycle of Bureau of Meteorology alerts; moving everything in the house to upper shelves; packing Go Bags; and engaging in endless, nervous conversations on a single topic: do we stick or twist? Do we stay, or leave before the Red Alert hits and we lose the chance to decide for ourselves?
Last year, we evacuated early, and spent four days locked inside the local evacuation centre, sleeping on air mattresses, showering by means of a hand towel and the cold water sinks in the communal toilets, and feasting on cold baked beans and crackers, before returning home to find absolutely nothing had happened to our street or our house. This time, we decided to stay.
Thursday was our normal food shopping day: by the time I hit the meat aisle at 10am, it looked like last day of the month at a Moscow market:
By Friday, Lord 15 and I were out at the local sand drop site, filling sandbags along with half the community. This is the second successive year we’ve had a cyclone come through, and one thing is apparent each time: the community closes ranks and becomes incredibly united. Strangers were borrowing each other’s shovels, holding sandbags open for each other, moving cars to give people access, offering excess bags around. There was no selfishness, no rancour, no aggression: people simply got on with the job, sharing tools, assisting others. Pets and kids got involved. There was a tacit understanding that property and lives were on the line. Everybody simply pitched in. Karratha, just before the cyclone, is people at their best.
We even managed to befriend a Channel Nine news crew, who came along to see how a typical family prepares. They got us, so the joke was on them. (Our bit starts at 2.21)
By 8pm on Friday, we were at Red Alert, and unable to leave the house. Once Damien hit, we were trapped while winds as high as 230 kilometres per hour ripped across the building. We were doubly nervous– our house is at the edge of a storm surge area, meaning we faced the threat of potential flooding if things went the wrong way. For 24 hours we sat in the deepest recesses of the house, away from the windows that bent and thudded in the winds, and listened to our fences being torn apart outside. By Saturday evening we were without power. We had no internet access to keep us informed of the world outside. The portable, battery-powered radio we had tested just before the cyclone arrived choked under pressure and quit on us. We were isolated, alone, and huddled together in one room trying to read by lamplight to take our minds off the howling winds, and the shrieking, tortured, metal just outside.
This video is from the early part of the cyclone, before we hit the eye, and before the wind changed direction and intensified as part of the tail. Taken through our closed bedroom window, it doesn’t capture the noise of the wind, but you can see the damage already caused, and the effect the winds are having as they rise.
And this is how it ended up:
We were fortunate. Luscious, Lord 15, and I live in a relatively sheltered location, at the rear of a quadrant of identical units at the far end of a common driveway that lies at a 90 degree angle to the direction the winds and flood waters flowed. Our damage was minimal compared to others. We lost three fences, and while water damage was contained, the water did reach as high as our second line of sandbags: it would not have taken much, even in our sheltered location, for our defences to have been breached.
One more video, to show you our rear fence.
It’s the second day of clean up now, and the damage around town is extensive. Entire lines of trees have been destroyed. There are somewhere in the region of fifty along the roads between our house and the nearest major building, which is the regional hospital: not one of them is upright. Driving around town I can see tarps where there were rooves; piles of debris along every street edge; parks that look as if they’ve been bombed.
These are a few images of damage in our street — remember, we were quite sheltered. One item of interest: the gate in the centre of the third image belonged to the gateway three feet behind me when I took the picture. And this is the park at the end of our street. It’s typical.
So we’re battered, and still slightly shocked, but we survived. What worries me most, now, is the thought of another cyclone hitting us: the season continues until April, and the threat is not imaginary. But for now we attempt to return to normal.
School will return in a day or two*, once the gardening crews and their chainsaws have completed the clean-up work and the inspector gives us the all-clear. The shops will stock up across the week. Fasciae will be repaired, antennas re-hoisted. Fences will take longer, thanks to the onslaught of insurance claims that will happen over the next month. Rooves will take longer still. We have a brilliant City, with an equally brilliant Cyclone Management Plan and a Town Planning Department that has done wonders to mitigate potential risks within its design and construction of suburbs. The local SES and DFES people are unbelievable heroes. Horizon Power reconnected almost 7000 residents with 12 hours of losing power at the height of the destruction.
We move onwards.
(*Edit: It’s 4.30pm on Monday. We’ve just been informed that School won’t be back until Thursday at the earliest. That’s some kind of damage.)