Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cyclone Yasi, a non-live, very long blog


Wednesday 02/02/2011, 1827 hrs.

The big one is coming. Stuck at work between emergencies, I thought I’d maintain a running log (that’s work talking). There’s no point trying to keep my mind off it, so I’ll do the opposite. There’s nothing like writing it all down to make it less scary. Please note, swear words may be used later as the weather gets worse…

The police station has become a halfway house. It is full of kids, pets, and those of us working for the duration of the cyclone. There are dogs in the holding cell, cats in Liquor Licensing, and toddlers in the Criminal Investigations Branch. The power went out a while ago, but the generator has kicked in. We have air-conditioning, computers, fridges and (while the winds are still not too bad) we have a BBQ on the front steps. There are forty-five of us (pets excluded), and we’re having BBQ sausages for dinner, and saving the barramundi for breakfast. If it wasn’t for the cyclone, this would be a great night.

I am six hours into my eighteen-hour shift. Eighteen, they tell me, maybe nineteen, but certainly no more than twenty…I suppose the morning will decide. Not only do I need to be able to get safely home, but the morning shift needs to be able to replace me. Ten of those hours (maybe eleven, certainly no more then twelve) are on overtime…the mortgage will thank me, if I still have a house.

They are setting up places to sleep in the empty offices. Is it wrong that it’s not even 6.30pm and I want a nap?

The wind gusts aren’t too bad yet, but it’s still very early in the evening. There are trees and powerlines down all over the city already.

Tomorrow was my day off, dammit.

1836 hrs.

Something large and metal is getting thrown around in Sturt St. Where I parked my car. I knew there was a reason I double-checked this morning that I’d paid the insurance.

1843 hrs.

The sausages are here! Nom nom nom. Apparently there are also salads downstairs. Meh, salads.

1931 hrs.

Inappropriate comment of the night, in relation to story with accompanying pictures of the local alcoholic homeless man who was taken up to the hospital with maggots crawling out of the open wound in his head: He was maggoted!

1935 hrs.

Second inappropriate comment of the night: If you see it blink, start running. Seriously, the background to that one is so filthy that I can’t write it here.

1958 hrs.

Police are not coming to your disturbance. No, they’re not. Because there’s a cyclone going on, and it’s too unsafe for anyone to be out there. Bye-bye then. Bye-bye.

Although let me just say that I admire your attitude. No Category 5 cyclone bearing down on a 1000 kilometre stretch of the Queensland coast is going to get in the way of your drunken little bitch-fight. Kudos to you, sir, kudos. 

2008 hrs.

Someone yawned. We have officially moved from hysterical-tired to tired-tired.

2022 hrs.

Note to sergeant: Check nobody’s kids are in the room before singing that rude song.

2043 hrs.

The wind is picking up now, howling. Standing out the front of the station, I could hear tin squealing. The streets are covered in debris. There is a solitary sandbag on the traffic island in Stanley St, looking soggy and alone. The rain is coming in fierce little squalls. It changes direction every few seconds. Sometimes the wind brings it horizontally.

2100 hrs.

Every call I take is about downed power lines.

Something just ripped off a roof. It was close, maybe even in the back car park of the station. The noise was protracted as it tore. The storm is still three hours from landfall, and, if we’re lucky, we’ll still only be on the right side of those little concentric circles that the Bureau of Meteorology draws around the eye of the storm: Very Destructive Winds, Destructive Winds, Gale Force Winds. At the moment we’re on the edge of Destructive and Gale Force. We’re slated to miss the worst, but I have a feeling the city will look very different tomorrow. I feel bad for Innisfail.

The piece of roofing that tore off landed in our car park and hit the Drug Squad car. And there are still idiots out driving in this.

2154 hrs.

Rumours of a 9.5 metre tidal surge off Magnetic Island are causing the phones to run hot. One hotel manager gives me his phone number to call back if there is a tsunami. Mate, if there’s a tsunami, I’ll be underwater before you, and my chances of successfully making a phone call are slim to none. I really, really, really want to say this. I don’t though, because it would be wrong.

2207 hrs.

A lady is angry at me because her roof and half the side of her house are gone. She doesn’t like my advice to shelter in the safest part of the house, and call the SES to assist her when the cyclone passes. She is a pensioner, she tells me. She does not understand that her financial status doesn’t change the fact that police do not carry magic cloaks of invincibility that enable them to stride unharmed through cyclones. They also don’t carry tarps.

I find myself wishing her whole house had blown away. I have been here too long.

2245 hrs.

We went outside, and stood a metre from the sheltered front doors. All the power is out now. The rain is whipping back and forth on the wind. Even under shelter it is a fine mist. Every now and then there is a sound like a car revving in the distance; the wind. There is very little debris on the street now. The wind won’t let it settle.

Inside, there are people lying under desks, trying to sleep. I’m tired now as well, but I don’t know if I will sleep even given the opportunity. I’m worrying about my family now, and about my friends, and about my pets and my house. I keep wondering what I will find when I go home in the morning.

2338 hrs.

It’s like sitting next door to a railway yard. Metal hitting metal. It’s almost background noise now, most of it drowned out by the roar of the wind.

Wednesday, 03/02/11, 0014 hrs.

The eye of Cyclone Yasi has just passed over Mission Beach. I’m hoping this means we’re at the halfway mark. I don’t care about rain, flooding, or storm surge. It’s the wind that scares me. I want my house to have a roof when I get home. Screw the windows, I just want the roof.

I’m tired as well. Most of the calls have stopped. Maybe people have settled into things, or maybe the phone towers are down. Those calls that do get through are all asking the same thing: when will it stop?

Today is officially my day off. I didn’t have any definite plans, but this sure as hell didn’t enter into it. I just want to go home and sleep, and I have at least six hours to go. And I don’t know how I’ll cope if I can’t just fall into bed when I get home.

I wouldn’t have slept tonight if I’d been home, but it’s no consolation. At least I would have been home.

0056 hrs.

Quote of the night: I’m very particular about who drinks out of my bathtub.

0221 hrs.

I have just spent forty-five minutes under my boss’s desk. And not in a good way.

See, lying there, I knew there had to be a way to work a rude joke in. It was forty-five minutes of being desperately tired, but that wind was so loud.  In the end, with a towel wrapped around my head to try and block out all of the light and some of the noise, I tried to doze. Then I got paranoid about being discovered sleeping with a towel around my head. And then I got distracted by Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, and how awesome it was that I packed a towel. Hey, you sass that hoopy frood Jen? She really knows where her towel is.

Then I began to recite poetry in my head to try and distract myself from the noise of tearing metal and the roar of the wind. I started The Raven off well, then got muddled towards the middle, and completely flubbed the end. It was pointless to try and sleep then. I had to come out and check it on my Kindle. Should probably check that Hitchhikers’ thing too.
I’ll probably doze off in my chair later on.

0318 hrs.

The city is dark. It’s a ghost town, complete with the wailing, gnashing and shaking of chains. I’m ready for this to be over now as soon as you are, Yasi.

Fifteen hours into my eighteen hour shift. Yep, ready for this to be over.

0421 hrs.

I dozed in my chair and now I’m awake again, or at least as awake as I’ll be until I get a decent block of sleep. It seems like the worst of the wind is over. It must be, right, if presenters from breakfast television are doing live broadcasts from just around the corner? Either that or we’ll see Kochie decapitated by a piece of flying tin. So, you know, win/win.

0448 hrs.

Just saw on Channel 7 that 000 emergency calls will now be answered in Townsville. Must have hallucinated those last seventeen hours.

0504 hrs.

It turns out the eighteenth hour is the hardest. Who knew? Still hoping to get home at 6am; hoping, not hopeful. I know there is a tree down on Sturt St, and another big one blocking Ingham Rd, so I will need to consider an alternate route. This is presupposing I still have a car…I wonder if the QPS would buy me a new one. I would like a BMW.

Given Yasi’s size, it’s fairly miraculous that it made landfall almost exactly between the two most populous North Queensland cities. Sucks to be Mission Beach and Cardwell right now, but the damage in Townsville and Cairns, whatever it turns out to be, could have been much, much worse.

0545 hrs.

I am no longer hopeful about going home at 6am.

0708 hrs.  

I’m no longer fucking hopeful about fucking going home at all.
Later that day (written later that week):

So, I made it home just after 0900 – a twenty-one hour shift. My route home was convoluted, turned into a maze by fallen trees, powerlines, and debris. When I got home I had to park my car on the street outside my house as the gate was wedged sideways in the newly crinkle-cut fence. I made a circuit of the yard, shuffling like a zombie, to check I still had a roof. Several of my trees were down. Several more were lying on my neighbours’ roof. I was too tired to care.

My gate

For twenty-one hours I had dreamed of falling into my bed like a drunk, face down on the mattress, and not getting up until I felt human again. I stumbled inside, checked on the frantic cats, and headed into my bedroom. And that’s when I discovered it: one of the cats had peed on my mattress! I stripped the sheets, manhandled the mattress onto the veranda, opened all the windows in the house, and slept in my spare room with my towel over my head.

My neighbours' roof - somewhere under here... 

Later that week:

Sunday. The fourth full day without power. I miss my computer. I miss my TV. I miss my dog, who is boarding with my mum until the fence is fixed. I am sick of eating out of cans. Or, worse, staring into my cupboard and wondering if I could really eat an entire tin of beetroot and call it a meal. I am loving being back at work, surrounded by the hum of electricity. The sheer, beautiful luxury of refrigerators and air-conditioning!

Later still: 

Arrived home and the power is on, hooray! I have cranked up the air conditioning, and turned on the TV and all the lights. Later on I will make microwave popcorn and ponder how the hell people ever lived without electricity. Masochists. 


  1. Whoa. What a stunning experience.

    When I started it, I thought it would make a great story - all the details like the dogs in the holding cell and sergeants singing rude songs, and then I realized it already is a great story, just as it's told. In fact, it's heightened by the hourly posts, so we don't know ('cause you don't know) how bad it's going to get.

  2. Thanks MC.
    No-one was more surprised, and more delighted then me when it turned out to have a happy ending...although I think we should have dogs at work all the time.

  3. I love your writing Miss Jen xo scary night for all of us along the NQ coast

  4. Thankyou, Miss Janelle! It was as interesting evening, wasn't it?

  5. Adams and Poe in one post. I bow to your skill.



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