By Chire Fulford

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Editor’s note: While this article takes us back to 2006, natural disasters are becoming an all-too-common fact of life in Australia and the world at large. Many of you may have experienced hardship as a consequence of the summer bush fires of 2020–21 or the recent winter floods. While adequate access to timely information is also a critical requirement, read on to discover some tips to enhance your personal preparedness for an emergency.

Happy as Larry…, yeah right! Where did that saying come from anyway? The Larry I encountered in 2006 was harsh, full of wind and bellowed angrily. It was March and Cyclone Larry was coming. I’d been waiting for it. I had a feeling we’d get a big one this year. “Quick, put my processing cap on, delve into the deep recesses of my mind, and remember everything I need to do in the case of a natural disaster. It shouldn’t be too far down, because I was pondering it recently.” I do try to be organized because I am legally blind. Suddenly, it all came flooding back.

When I saw how long the list was, I wanted to close my eyes, block my ears, and quite frankly run away. But guess what?  There was nowhere to run, so I decided I’d better get those limbs and brain into action.

“Ok, I removed all furniture from the indoor/outdoor area. There was floor to ceiling screens in that room, without glass, and the wind would blow straight in”.  An easy task you may think; “but where am I going to put it all?  First, I placed everything in the lounge against the wall, so I could move more items into the room – I’m on a roll now!  I lifted, carried and deposited items so many times that I lost count.”

That room was nearly full, I even remembered to leave a pathway to the garage for our final escape.

“But before then, I had to move some gear to the garage. Anything that was high off the ground as the garage flooded when it rained, the BBQ, the massage table.

“Now, where to put those small things? Ah brainwave, on my bed! Again, I lifted, carried, on the bed went, the 3ft square mirror, keyboard, lamps, futon mattress, two single mattresses and cushions. Soon the bed was full. I cast a suspicious eye over the remaining items in the indoor/outdoor area, two freezers, a cupboard, and large computer desk. They will have to stay put, there was nowhere else to move them to. I turned the cupboard to the wall, and ensured that the freezers’ cords were off the floor.

“Right, next, tape the windows, but oh, to find the tape, mmmm, of course, it’s in one of the cupboards closest to the wall.”  I needed to display a few acrobatic and contortionist tricks (especially that old South African trick number 39) to get to the cupboard to acquire the tape.” I taped up all the windows that don’t have security screens.”  Now, don’t you just love working with tape, especially long bits?  Apart from sticking myself to the door a few times and to the windows, I also managed to stick myself to myself. Plus, the tape to itself, this job was a breeze, it only took me twice as long.

“Next, pack what we will need to take. We were escaping to the high ground because tidal surges are expected, and we live a hop skip and jump from the beach”. I threw a few clothes together – remembering sand shoes and jumper. I had candles, batteries, radio, mobile with charger, gas bottle, water and food that we could live on for a week if necessary. I said a quick “goodbye” to the house then headed with my daughter for the hills, the Atherton Tablelands.

She’d recently gotten her driver’s license and had never driven the Kuranda Range. She definitely wasn’t confident. Actually, she would have preferred not to drive to the tablelands but didn’t want to leave her car behind. A good start?

“Everything was fine, until we reached the initial winding climb. The car ahead drove at a snail’s pace, either a tourist or someone who hadn’t driven the range before. They moved well over to the left so she could overtake, but it was a double white line with too much oncoming traffic. I talked her through it, not to overtake until there was an overtaking lane.  In the meantime, if we went any slower, we’d have stopped.  My heart pounded, my daughter was nearly ready to pull over and burst into tears, when an overtaking lane loomed ahead. Go go go! we’re off.”  We both started to breathe easier.

Finally, we made it to our friend’s vacated house. We settled ourselves in nicely and waited for the onslaught.

“Around midnight the winds picked up, howling. Occasionally the house moved.”  It sounded much worse than it was, because every noise echoed throughout the empty house. We heard tin flapping somewhere downstairs.  It rained from time to time. Rain came horizontally through the closed louvers.

We listened to the radio all night as people rang up telling their stories. That in itself was hard to take.  Roofs off, rain pouring in, whole houses lifted and dumped, huge trees snapped in half, cane fields that no longer existed, ranges blocked, power lines down. All we could do was huddle closer together and wonder when our turn would come.

We must have both fallen asleep, because next thing it was the early hours of the morning, and all was quiet, dead quiet!  “This was when the eye moved across the coast. There were no noises, no birds and the atmosphere felt eerie.  It was even sunny in places with slight drizzle.”

It wasn’t over, we had to wait for the calm before the storm, once the cyclone’s eye passed the weather could get just as furious but from the opposite direction.

We couldn’t leave there was too much destruction, and the Range was blocked. Therefore, we spent the day playing games, drinking cups of tea and making up for lost sleep.

Eventually, the Range reopened, and we headed back to Cairns; amazed at the devastation, especially since Larry crossed the coast 100km away at Innisfail. We arrived home late at night to no power and all I wanted to do was sleep. It had been an emotional trip, I was exhausted.  “I felt my way to my bedroom and went to lay down. Ah, and then I remember the mirror, keyboard, lamps, cushions and mattresses etc.  I removed what I could, stored things all around my bedroom floor and got into bed.”

It took a week to recover. Firstly, because there was another cyclone sitting off the coast, so I didn’t see the point in putting everything back where it belonged until I knew what that cyclone was doing. Three days later, I started to put the house back to how it was and got into some sort of old routine. This wasn’t easy as I still had no electricity.

The pool needed cleaning; it was full of yard debris. All the meat in the freezer had defrosted, it needed to be cooked up.

The list of chores was endless, regardless of where I went around my home.

The Cairns beaches had little water damage due to being north of the cyclone’s path. Cairns hardly had any rain. The expected tidal surge didn’t happen. But really, we could count our lucky stars.

We updated our natural disaster plan.

“Make sure where we are running to is not worse than where we have left.

When taping up windows, remember to tape ALL of them.”  I’d forgotten the two sets of double glass doors in the garage.

“PS, I don’t like cereal that much that I want to live on it for a week.”

“Ha, ha! one small consolation, the wet carpet in my bedroom was now dry, because the waterbed base had soaked it up…”  And yes, you guessed it, it was a chipboard base, but that’s another story…!

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