Saturday, March 28, 2009

Brush with a cyclone

Back on 8 March I was thinking about my friends in North Queensland as Cyclone Hamish threatened them. I said then I might write about my near cyclone experience the next day. Promptly forgot about it. 20 days later I have remembered. That's how my memory works these days.

The weather here today can only be described in one word - calm. A half hearted sun shining through light cloud, not a breath of wind. A thoroughly pleasant day. Like a mid winter day in North Queensland, only slightly cooler.

Mid summer in Nth Qld is, if course, the opposite. It had been hot, hot, hot in the days before the event I am going to talk about. Maybe I hadn't been listening to the radio, although that seems strange because I always had the radio on when going to and from work. Anyway, I hadn't heard any cyclone warnings. Then mid morning the wind got up and it started to rain - very heavily. Around 3 pm one of the engineers I worked with who lived out my way, came bursting into my office saying, "Cyclone coming. If we want to get home tonight, we better get going or we won't get past Hamilton Plains. You better follow me. If it looks like you won't get through we can bring your car back here and I will drop you off at your place." He drove a big utility truck, I drove a little Ford Laser, so his chances of making it through flood water were greater than mine.

There was a steady stream of cars pulling out of the carpark, everyone who lived out in the country heading for home. Another guy who would turn off along the way (in another big ute) was in front of Keith, with me and my little red car tagging along behind.

Hamilton Plains is just out of town, so it wasn't long before we saw the water across the road. I've found it always pays to watch the locals in these situations. Traffic was stopped at either end of the flooded stretch of road, one car heading east would go through the flood water, then one car heading west went, all driving on the east bound side of the road. A funny sort of relay. And all of them were bigger cars than mine!

But I'm nothing if not game. I observed very carefully, noting how far from the fence sticking up out of the water along the side of the road I should be, trying to imprint in my memory what path I was to follow. Keith's turn came and he went through and as soon as the next west bound car had gone through, I said something encourageing to my little car, took a big breath and pressed "Play" in my head for driving through floodwater. Second gear, keep it steady, do not ease the foot off the accelerator, keep going, keep it steady, you can do it, steady does it. Nearly there. Oh yay! Through!

Keith was waiting for me on the other side to give me the next set of instructions. We'd be right from here until we got to another little creek with a bridge. He'd wait for me on the other side of that. I was more scared about this crossing than getting stuck out there on the plains where there were plenty of people around to rescue me. We'd now turned off the main road and it was just Keith and me on our road. At the approach to this bridge was a sign warning against swimming as it was an estuarine crocodile habitat. Oh, oh, oh.

I kept Keith in sight and was mightily relieved to see the water wasn't as high here as it had been on the plains. And not very high at all over the bridge.

Plain sailing now till my place, then Keith had another 10km or so to go but I knew he would be OK in his local knowledge and monster vehicle.

He stopped when we came to my drive and yelled something about giving him a call if I had any trouble, did I know how to tape up my windows? goodo then, good luck, and he was on his way.

I had to cross a drain to access my driveway and it wasn't until then I realized how deep the water was over the drain. The culvert was blocked. I grabbed my umbrella from the back seat and headed on foot up to the house to get a shovel to clear it. After about 10 paces I realized I was getting soaked, the rain was pouring through the umbrella! What the hell, I'm gonna get soaked before I'm done so just walk in the rain and enjoy it.

Luckily I had to wear steel capped boots at work so I had on sensible footwear. And even dripping wet it wasn't cold. Clearing that culvert was pretty scarey, I had to keep shaking my head to clear the water from my eyes but also to rid myself of thoughts of what could be in that drain. Got it cleared eventually and drove the car up to the house. Very proud of my little car I was!

The small drain in front of the house was a raging torrent, gurgling along happily. I cleared another culvert it ran through and walked all around the property checking if there was anything else I should be doing. I couldn't have been any wetter but I was quite happy. An early darkness was falling and the thought that the power might go out drove me inside to make my preparations while there was still some light.

As I'd been wandering around, I had been thinking about which room of the house I should spend the night in. It should be the smallest room but my bathroom only had walls to about shoulder height then was open to the weather so I'd decided it would have to be my bedroom. I stripped off and had a shower, then went to my bedroom only to discover my bed was soaking wet. A piece of iron on the roof must have come loose in the wind. Oh bother! I wasn't going to get up on the roof in that wind, I'd just have to leave it to fate. At least the decision was made for me about where I would sleep. The spare bedroom was probably the safest option anyway, as it was the only room in the house that wasn't predominantly glass.

The power conveniently didn't go off until have I'd had my dinner and made a flask of coffee. And it was more peaceful without the TV and it's constant interruptions of the blaring whoop, whoop, whoop cyclone warning siren. I had plenty of batteries for the radio so went to bed early with the radio for company. By bedroom opened directly on to an outdoor passage so the sooner I got myself in there the better was my way of thinking.

I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't a bit scared and concerned. If I needed help I knew I'd not be able to get to my nearest neighbour as the drain between the properties had been pretty high even before dark and the water was pouring down out of the hills at the back of our places. I just had to keep worrying thoughts out of my head and concentrate on the beauty of the power of the storm. How it raged, how lucky was I to be laying in bed with all that fury unleashed outside and not able to get at me! I listened to the cyclone warnings and the dire predictions until around 1 am when sleepiness came to my rescue and carried me away.

Just after 4 am there was a frightfully loud crash and the house shook. I got up and was nearly blown off my feet when I stepped into the outdoor passage to go inspect the rest of the house. Everything was OK. It wasn't till morning that I saw the fallen tree which had missed the house by about 2 feet. No wonder the house shook enough to wake me!

The morning news on the radio told me the cyclone had headed a bit further south (but just off the coast) and then headed out to sea. No chance of getting to work though. And the power was back on. A few people had drowned just to the north of us.

That was the closest I ever came to being in a cyclone.

The worst part was the wind that followed. There was a lot more rain, of course, but it was the wind that got at me. The sugar mill building was quite large and clad in corrogated iron. There was an alley way about 10-12 feet wide between the mill and the building where my office was located. The wind tore through that alley like a tormented soul, making a high pitched whistling, howling, moaning sound. After three days of it I swore I was going insane - and I wasn't the only one.

I think I could endure another experience like the one I'd been through (in a way it was quite exciting) but I never, ever want to be subjected to that sort of wind noise again.

1 comment:

  1. This was some experience you had. I agree about the wind. You tell a good tale. I must go back over your postings,

    ReplyDelete

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