I have been bombarded with images, articles, updates and tweets about the devastation of Cyclone Yasi. You probably have too, so I have decided to focus this post on the thing that was unique about this, my first real cyclone experience...the fear.
I have known fear. There's that feeling in the pit of your stomach when there is turbulence on the airplane. There's those few moments of terror when your toddler goes missing at the shopping centre, only to be found moments later happily playing in the coin-operated Wiggles car. There is the fear that you get when you are told you have breast cancer and wonder if you will live to see your children grow up. All those are different types of fear to the one that I felt last week.
The difference was this. The subject of those fears either never eventuated, were irrational or affected mainly me. This cyclone was a significant threat, and it posed a real and imminent danger to not only me, but to my children, my husband, my possessions, my dearest friends and their families.
I have always thought that in times of crisis, I would be able to hold it together. I have seen that I can be calm in some extraordinary situations. Will has often looked to me to provide guidance when the kids have been sick or injured. I have gone to the aid of someone who has fallen and bashed herself up badly enough for there to be blood everywhere. I have undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I have amazed myself at how strong I can be when the chips are down.
What I wasn't prepared for was the paralysis that I felt, when on Wednesday morning, we awoke to updates on the Bureau of Meteorology website. BoM told us a Category 5 cyclone, that was a severe threat to life and property, and was larger than any known to recent generations, was heading straight for Cairns.
We had received text messages suggesting, but not telling us, to evacuate as we were located in a storm surge area. Storm surge, for those not familiar with cyclone speak, is when the tides rise higher than normal due to a storm. They say that storm surge is one of the deadliest things about a cyclone.
I visualised us huddled up in the crawl space in our roof trying to stay away from the flood waters, whilst trying to take cover from 300 km/hr winds from the cyclone.
I visualised us huddled in our bathroom with our mattresses over our heads, the roof blown off and all our possessions being whirled about us, all potential missiles that could cause us bodily harm or death.
We decided to go to an evacuation centre. It was the best option for us. Where we stayed had a Category 5 rating, was a brand new building, had SES staff, police, registered nurses and a doctor. These people had experience and would make our decisions for us, informed decisions, not fearful and impulsive decisions such as the ones we considered, like getting in a car in the middle of a cyclone.
Anyway, once the decision was made to evacuate, I went back inside and started to pack a bag for our evacuation. My mind wasn't working. I couldn't think properly. Will just got on with loading up the car. It took me what seemed like forever to pack a simple bag. I picked things up, and then put them back down. I would start in one room and end up in another, nothing getting packed in between. I have never felt so incompetent.
When we awoke the next morning, we found out that the cyclone had hit further south and that we had missed most of the devastating winds. Our winds only got up to 93 km/h...only. Our home was unscathed, and we were one of the lucky suburbs to still have our power. Our friends were not as lucky and ended up staying with us for a couple of days, because they had no power. A lot of the people in Tully, Cardwell and Mission Beach escaped with only their lives. Their homes, communities and businesses were destroyed. My thoughts go to those people, because what they feared actually came to pass.