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Caught in a Cyclone continued
An account of experiences during Cyclone Seroja

Later in the day we were told there was a chance that the town water supply might have reduced pressure as a result of the power-out; and unless a generator could be rigged up to the pumping station, it could stop altogether. The bath was cleaned, then half-filled with water, just in case. Normal routines were abandoned in favour of makeshift ones. Although the generator was unable to cope with the electric oven, we had a gas hob for cooking and boiling water for hot drinks. A solar water heater meant showers were possible; but cloud cover reduced its efficiency and the electric booster wasn't working. The coming days were spent removing damaged fence panels and prising the back gate from its mangled hinge. Between times we took to crosswords and Sudoku while waiting for news of what was happening. It wasn't good.

damaged house

The town had been smashed. Some families were unable to stay in homes that had no roofs and broken windows. One poor woman had been forced to shelter for hours during the storm under a blanket with her six children. People like them had to move to an evacuation centre that had been set up. As well as damage to property, streets had to be cleared of debris and emergency crews began to arrive to assist council workers who were already inundated. It was destined to be a long task. The council offices at least had a closed Internet signal and also land lines; but still no power so the re-chargeable handsets were of no use. A rummage through some boxes in a storeroom produced one of the old telephones which was something. Once connected, apparently it kept ringing - outsiders trying to make bookings for the caravan park and the hotel, both of which were closed. Although the devastation of Seroja was reported on the national TV news as in the above photo, there were people who assumed it had just been a big blow and was now over. For those of us stuck in a crippled town it was unbelievable and frustrating that some outsiders could be so inconsiderate.

One aspect that hadn't been considered was money. People needed to buy food, fuel for their cars, and in particular for the generators if they had them. Without power, the automatic teller machines weren't working; neither were the EFTPOS facilities in the shops; and, of course, the fuel stations couldn't pump gas without power. These conveniences came on and went off during the next few days at random; so it was only by luck that anyone could access them when they were actually working. Having no way to withdraw cash from bank accounts, nor pay by card, we had to rely on the reserve we had brought with us. Others in town weren't as prepared. There was even an issue for Council which was unable to pay its workers - and they had to eat too.

Help began to arrive from outside in dribs and drabs. One major bonus was 45 generators trucked in by the army. Unenviable was the task of deciding which residents had priority, and many would have to miss out. Thanks to our generator, we were able to get a TV working enabling us to catch up with the latest news. Apparently the main arterial roads had eventually been cleared and were open; so our plan was to head off south as soon as practical. Our greatest concern, however, was the lack of phone coverage: should we break down miles from anywhere, with no mobile signal we would be in big trouble!

Fortunately, this didn't happen. On our way back home we drove through towns that had fared no better than Morawa; some were in a sorrier state. This was partly due to the fact that none were fully prepared, because cyclones aren't expected that far south. We know from past experience that isn't true. Even so, and home safe now, we can't help but sympathise with the victims whose towns won't be returning to any sense of normality for months to come.

Such is the way of extreme weather patterns like cyclones, hurricanes and super storms. Not until ordinary folk are caught in the middle of one is the awesome power of Mother Nature truly realised; nor the devastating aftermath that has to be coped with once the fury has passed. It is certainly a sobering thought.

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