Waiting for Marcia: a night we'll never forget
WORKING from home in Lammermoor Beach, Yeppoon, I'd just come off the back of a night shift with the Gladstone Observer when we heard Cyclone Marcia was predicted to make landfall as a category five cyclone.
It was clear my husband, nearly two-year-old daughter and I would be in Marcia's sights in hours.
We live in a pole house one block back from the beach and beside a rainforest gully with towering gums and other native trees that had been hit by ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald in 2013.
With this ferocious storm fresh in our minds we decided to quickly pack valuables and spare clothes and sleep altogether in the safest part of the house.
At 4am I received a text from Livingstone Shire Council telling regional residents in low-lying houses to evacuate due to an expected storm surge of 2.5m on top of a 10am high tide of nearly five metres.
This message scared the life out of me and dread began to creep into my body as I lay listening to the wind and rain outside.
Radio updates said the cyclone made landfall about 8am around 100km north of us.
It was reported to have crossed the military zone of Shoalwater Bay with winds over 200km.
While the weather was still relatively okay at our end I kept imagining that in a few hours our house would be destroyed like those I'd seen in footage of Darwin's Cyclone Tracy.
I'd been through a number of cyclones but who experiences a category five? Can you survive I worriedly thought?!
Our neighbour and his wife soon came over to check on us and suggested we batten down with them and their two dogs in a back bedroom.
From their beachfront property you could see north towards Yeppoon and the Byfield region, which was now in the cyclone's path.
The normally tropically blue water was a dirty brown.
Wind-driven waves broke hundreds of metres offshore before surging up the creek and dunes to claw at trees and vegetation.
As the high tide peaked waves were covering parts of the road below the verandah.
Branches were flying from the nearby gully trees in a strong offshore breeze and birds were trying in vain to take cover.
Not long after the power cut out and we heard reports the cyclone had been downgraded to a Category 4.
By lunchtime the winds picked up to a ferocious pace. They blasted the glass windows and doors making a high-pitched and eerie whistle.
In some instances the panes were bowing in their tracks leaving a gap for rain to stream inside.
We all quickly moved to the back bedroom where thick mattresses were placed over the two small windows and an extra mattress available to hide under if needed.
It was hot and stuffy in the room but no one wanted to be anywhere else.
The wind was angry and deafeningly loud but was frequently broken by large bangs on the roof from flying logs, fence palings, guttering, awnings, roof tiles and who knows what!
When we peeked behind the mattresses out the window you could see the once proud and strong gully trees at 45-degree angles being lashed by jet-fighter strength winds before snapping in half and being stripped of their leaves.
Very few were to survive the almost three-hour onslaught in which winds were reportedly recorded at about 160kmh in Yeppoon.
Concerned colleagues from the Rockhampton Bulletin soon rang to interview us and I also spoke live on NZ radio.
As the cyclone passed the winds turned onshore but remained just as punishing until slowly, slowly they died down enough so we could come outside to see the damage.
Luckily our house was intact although it had had a tonne of shredded leaves spat all over it and jammed into every nook and cranny.
In our street a family of four had been forced to evacuate during the storm when their roof flew into a neighbour's house and a nearby field.
An old power pole had been pushed into a house and its lines flung across the road.
Others had vehicles damaged by flying debris, verandahs and fences blown away, garage doors buckled, carpets soaked, sheds and guttering torn off, and much more.
Most importantly though we all gave thanks no one was injured.
Now three days after the storm the Premier has visited, the Army is on its way, 1800 powerlines have been reported down, 1500 central Queensland homes have some kind of structural damage, and I'm using a mobile solar panel to fire up my laptop.
It has been a scary and crazy few days and it could be some time until we are back to normal living.
But it is amazing to see our community pulling together.
We have survived a major cyclone and as the song goes "we will survive" what the future brings.