Here in Cairns, Northerin Australia, we have cyclones. Every year between the months of November and April, we have a “cyclone season”. Basically, between these months, the chance of cyclones developing off the coast and heading for us is very real.
They begin as low pressure systems and usually head for the coast. When they hit the coast, they begin to weaken into rain depressions. A cyclone is the same as a hurricane, except here in the southern hemisphere, they spin in the opposite direction. They bring with them, lots of wind, rain and flooding. They are given names and they are categorised from 1 to 5. 5 being strongest. As I write this, a low pressure system is currently off our coast and expected to become a cyclone by tomorrow, They will name it “Odette”.
One of these tropical low pressure systems developed off the coast of Cairns on Saturday the 18th of March, 2006. Soon after, it intensified into a cyclone and started tracking directly for us. The Bureau of Meteorology named it “Larry”. Life went on as usual, it was a normal day, with yet another cyclone buzzing around off the coast.
The next day, was very hot, humid and calm. No wind at all. It is true that there is usually a calm before the storm. By now, it was very likely that cyclone Larry would hit us, or at least come very close. I did my usual Sunday thing, relaxing, hanging out with friends. Went to a barbeque… By the afternoon, we knew that the storm was probably going to cross the coast sometime in the early hours of Monday morning. So, what do Cairns people do when a cyclone is coming? They get ready for a cyclone party of course! Firstly, we went to the local liquor store and waited in line while those with exactly the same idea in front of us, stocked up on copius quantities of alcohol. We also made sure we had plenty of ice for the “esky” (a kind of cool box for drink, food etc). The power would surely go off, so we would need to keep the beer cold somehow, not to mention whatever perishables we had in the fridge. Other preparations included bringing the cars into the garage and removing any loose and potentially dangerous paraphernalia from the yard.
Awoke on Monday the 20th of March, 2006 at about 4am to the wind beginning to howl. The power was still on, so I had a look at the internet. Cyclone Larry was now category 5 and expected to cross the coast just south of Cairns at around 6am. Indeed, when I got up again at 6am, the wind was screaming. I thought perhaps that if it became any worse, the windows would shatter, so I taped them. “No work today”, I thought to myself, as the wind became even louder. I went straight to the esky, and cracked my first beer. Oh yes! Let the party begin!
My housemate Cameron was also awake and taping his windows. I grabbed him a beer and we went to the garage opening for a look. Tree branches, leaves, rain, anything not secured, going straight past us, horizontally. I saw a tarpaulin from a neighbour’s back yard shoot off into the sky, and somebody else’s garage door was flapping like a sheet in a breeze. Shannon and Tina, our other housemates, turned up. Then friends Xenek and Jess. We were lucky, our back patio was nicely sheltered, so while the rest of the neighbourhood was losing trees and gutters, we were able to sit around the table and drink. I backed my car into the adjoining carport and pulled out my rear speakers, so we had good music to keep us going too. The wind screamed and we partied.
A little later, we were quite inebriated. We decided to go out for a drive to have a look at the damage. Probably not the best of ideas we have ever had, but ah what the hell? Around our neighbourhood trees and giant bamboo were down and across roads. We then went out to the airport. I had spotted something that looked odd from the main road. There we found an upside down aeroplane. I jumped out into the wind and rain (which was not so bad now) and took a picture. Then we were off to a friend’s house for a short visit, then another place for a beer and a joint or two. Things were becoming hazy. Finally we arrived home again. I suggested to Cameron that we should start on our favourite tipple – Bundaberg Rum. It’s good stuff, you should try it! A few drinks and a few laughs and that was the last thing I remember doing.
Black. Everything black, and oh so quiet. I imagined I could hear the sound of my own head exploding, because that is what it felt like it was trying to do. The sound of someone tapping at my door somehow penetrated my into my broken brain. I was in my bed. I don’t know how I got there, or if anyone had helped me. Obviously the power was out, because other than the tapping, there was no sound at all. The door opened and my friend Charisse entered. She said softly that she had been around earlier, tried and failed to wake me. They were having a barbeque at their place and everyone else was already there.
Somehow I managed to get up, and got into Charisse’s car. Her baby was screaming the entire way, which hurt my head so badly that I had to tell her to pull over so I could vomit. Indeed they were having a barbeque. I forced down some food and said very, very little. I felt like a truck had run me down, then backed over me again. Eventually Charisse took Cameron and I home again. When we arrived, Cameron and I were both somewhat disappointed to find a group of people, who shall remain nameless, helping themselves and having a party of their own at our place. We went to our beds, but I was kept awake all night by the drunken commotion directly outside my door.
The next day, we found powerlines with trees on them, and our own phone line across the driveway. Our trees, as with everyone else’s, had lost a lot of foliage. Branches were down everywhere and some trees uprooted completely. We had only experienced the outer edge of the storm. Eightyfive kilometres south of us, the town of Innisfail had been almost flattened. Many of their houses are still shattered a year later. Thousands of people became homeless overnight. For me, the worst damage I experienced was done to my liver. As some say here: “The liver is evil, it must be punished”.