Well, that was one hairy experience.
On 20th February 2015, Central Queensland was hit by a Category 5 cyclone – Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia. I had never been through a cyclone before so I was curious yet really nervous at the same time. When it was first announced, it was originally just a tropical low. Within 72 hours, that went to Category 5.
From what I remember watching coverage of previous cyclones, I knew I had to prepare early before everyone rushed in to do their last-minute preparations. When I did my cyclone preparation, Marcia was only predicted to be a Category 2. That was the Wednesday before landfall. Even then, by the time I went to the shop the following items were starting to be sold out at the local Woolworths:
- Bottled Water
- Canned Food
Fortunately for me I was lucky to get 4 cans of baked beans, two 2L bottles of water, one pack of UHT milk and 1 pack of bread. I thought that would do me expecting power to be out 1 to 2 days. How wrong was I?!
As soon as I got home from work the day after, I read the news that the cyclone had been upgraded to a Category 5. That’s when I began to get worried – is my house ready for a cyclone? Have I got enough supplies? I knew at this point it was too late for me to go to the shop and get supplies. The shops would be already packed with panicking residents and stock would have been depleted. So I did the next best thing – charged up all my devices and prepared for possibly 2 or 3 days without power. I also got word that work would be closed – more on that in a different post.
The night before Marcia made landfall I barely got any sleep. The sound of the gusts kept me awake, and landfall was predicted at 9am! After a few hours of decent sleep, I woke up to an unsettling calm. The air was still and you knew something big was coming up. I double checked my radio’s batteries and tuned in to ABC Capricornia 837AM. I also had the TV tuned in to Channel Nine’s Today Show. The majority of the morning was spent on tracking the cyclone on various media.
At around 11am, the gusts started to pick up. The power initially flickered, but managed to stay on for an extra few minutes – then the power went off again. This was bunker down time. At this point, Cyclone Marcia was downgraded to a Category 3 as it crossed Rockhampton. It’s common knowledge in these parts that when a cyclone hits, the strongest part of the house is the bathroom. I packed all my valuables, brought my radio, torch and camping chair and sat in the bathroom. I had my PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS to eat the time away.
In a cyclone, while the wind and rain are constant it’s the gusts that you have to worry about. There will be a period of very strong wind, and then a slight calm, and the gust returns. I was curious on what this looked like, and I gained confidence that the unit I was living in was strong enough to withstand Category 3 winds. I moved my camping chair to my home office. I got set up, opened the blinds, sat and watched Mother Nature at work.
This continued on till when the eye of the storm passed. Knowing the winds could return any time in the opposite direction, I waited patiently. My phone coverage had returned so I spent the time calling family and friends to tell them I was alright. I was also starting to get sleepy because of the night before so I decided I would take a nap. This was 2pm.
When I woke up, I checked my phone and it was 4pm. I got a text message from a colleague saying the cyclone was over. The calm returned. I headed outside. There were trees everywhere. I wasn’t sure about the damage in my township, or about any damage in Rockhampton itself. I also noticed phone coverage has significantly weakened – the cyclone knocked out cell phone service. The air was also very humid as the cyclone sucked out all the air.
I was thankful that I was safe and I went back in the house. With no power, I tried to find more ways to pass time. I did eventually fall to sleep again despite the humidity and lack of power. The next day, a surprise happened. It was sunny. I took this opportunity to have a walk in my township. Trees everywhere, but fortunately no power lines down in my area. I called my parents again letting them know I was safe. While looking at the damage, I had tears in my eyes. This was the first major cyclone I had been in and I was so grateful to have survived the storm.
By midday I got sick of eating canned food. I took a risk and headed in to town that Saturday afternoon. Firstly, there was no power at the intersection between the entrance to my township and the Capricorn Highway. Down the road, the amount of rain flooded the lagoons – the water almost spilled over on to the Capricorn Highway. Driving in to Rockhampton, the full extent of the damage was realised. The main casualty was trees – and heaps of them were down. Traffic lights were still off and road sign debris everywhere. Then you hit the CBD and there was power! There were long queues for petrol at the only petrol station with power, and at Hungry Jacks and McDonalds. There also was a working ATM which I used to get out emergency funds. I also got myself a pizza as Pizza Hut was open. Finally, no more baked beans!
Power was not restored to my house until Wednesday so that would have been 5 days and 6 nights without power. During that time I still had to go to work, and it was very taxing emotionally. Once power was restored however, I had a sense that normality has returned. I was able to catch up on the media coverage of Cyclone Marcia.
Video credit to Australian TV Fan on YouTube.
Thank you to the Ergon Energy crew for the hard work they had put in to restore power in such a small timeframe. Many thanks to the Defence Forces and other organisations helping Central Queensland get back on its feet.
This will be a story I will never forget.