It all began with a phone call just days before New Years Eve. The person on the other end was someone I had met once for just a few minutes during 2009. She was calling from Malaysia asking if she could stay with us for a few days and that she'd be arriving in Brisbane Jan 1st. The connection with 'Sue' is that she is the daughter of Mary (read about Mary here: Mary, Me and Thanksgiving). We had just sold our house and were making preparations to move back to Utah in just a matter of weeks. I was sick to my stomach about the idea of a stranger coming to stay in our house of bedlam but I said "Yes".
The short version is that Sue came and stayed for longer and it was a WONDERFUL experience. Sue was accepting our our chaos and cooked for us every night. It was a joy to have her in our home and is now a life long friend.
Before our big move from Australia to USA, we decided to have a once in a lifetime family trip up north to show the children where I grew up and do enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. This wonderful trip turned into a nightmare when not one but TWO cyclones were predicted for North Queensland. Thankfully the first one, which was supposed to hit Townsville (where we were at the time) directly, moved further south and all we experienced was a little rain.
We decided to continue on our journey further north because although there was a bigger cyclone forming and heading towards Queensland, we had 'assurance' that it was heading south and we would be fine. We drove from Townsville to Cairns driving through all the little towns in between. We drove through Innisfail and pointed out all the banana plantations that had been wiped out five years earlier due to Cyclone Larry. The children remembered the bananas being $12/kg because of it. But here they were back up and running and full of beautiful bunches of bananas.
Monday evening it became evident that the cyclone that had been forming was now a real threat and was heading straight for us in Cairns and it had a name....Yasi. It was rated catagory 4 and was continuing to pick up speed.
With this in mind we called our airline to change our flights (we were staying in a cabin at a caravan park and had no landline phone access and no internet) from Saturday to Tuesday. Early Tuesday morning my husband drove out to the airport to take care of it. There were no more flights available for the Tuesday and we were booked on the first available flight on the Wednesday.
Later in the day as my panic was increasing and there was mention of more flights being added, we took another trip out to the airport where I went in to work things out. I asked the girl about extra flights to which she replied there were none. I then asked her for reassurance that our flight for the next morning WOULD happen and without hesitation she assured me the flights would go as scheduled because TC Yasi would be 15 hours later. I then said "IF you were to get extra flights in at midnight you WOULD text me right? You WOULD let me know so we can leave right???" (said with a smile of course) She smiled and nodded. With this reassurance in mind I was comforted and we proceeded to do SOMETHING on this 'experience of a lifetime' and drove up to the beautiful Port Douglas.
Before heading back to our cabin at the caravan park, we stopped and bought some food to prepare for dinner that night. We also bought a couple of packets of chips and treats along with cereal and milk. We bought very little as we would be leaving the next morning and was no need to stock up.
At around 8:30pm I received a text on my mobile phone telling me to call the airline about a cancellation of our flight the next day. As I read it I felt like life turned into slow motion. My breath caught in my throat and breathing became difficult. We had no landline phone to call from and our mobile phones were about to run out of credit. My husband called only to find that indeed our flight had been cancelled and we'd be booked on the first flight on Friday morning. IF we made it out alive.
We had no land line phone to use and were about out of credit on our mobile phones so couldn't call the airline only to be put on hold for 45 minutes or more. There was no one at the caravan park office now. They had all gone home.
We ran around like madmen to get everything in the car. We drove to the airport but there were no more flights or the ones that were going were already full. So off to our friend's house to wait out the storm.
O and L were wonderful to welcome our family of strangers in.
The following day was spent watching the status of the cyclone on the internet, watching movies (although I put my foot down at my son's suggestion of 2012), sending and receiving messages on my phone from family and friends as well as talking to various members of my family on the phone.
By late afternoon I was scared. One of my brothers called me and shared his concern with me and that he'd be praying for us. I am a firm believer in prayer. I have seen it work in my life many times beyond what some would say is a coincidence or luck. This experience has taken me from a 'firm believer' to 'I have no doubt that there is a God and that praying works'.
Before the storm really got going and while the power was still on, my husband was asked to offer up a prayer asking that we would be safe. It was early evening. By now the winds had picked up and night was falling.
The power lasted till about 9:30 which was just enough time to see the end of a cricket match that was being played down south. We sat in the dark listening to the wind. Every now and again the battery operated radio was turned on so we could learn anything we could about the cyclone. At one point it was heading right for Cairns. This was not a good thing.
The winds blowing all around. We could hear sheet metal being thrown about yet it was pitch black outside and we couldn't see a thing. I don't know which was worse, the sound of the wind or the fact that we couldn't see anything.
During the afternoon...and into the evening....I had been receiving phone calls and text messages on my mobile phone. I had spoken to many of my family members and some dear friends who were also worried about us.
One brother wrote how he and his family had been praying for the angels to attend us.
A sister shared that they had been asked by my father to pray specifically for the house we were staying in.
Another sister said I had better make it through alive or else.
When I was young, growing up in Townsville, I remember living through a cyclone one Christmas. Cyclone Althea was a big one and the aftermath was dreadful. I remember driving around with my family to see the damage. I was young and remember very little. We lived in a tiny little house at that time. My sister remembers the floor boards rippling as the wind blew.
Earlier in the day while the power was still working, I looked online to see just how big Althea was. I learned that it was a catagory 4. Knowing that my family had survived this huge storm in a little house that should not have made it through (in fact a neighbour mentioned to mum at a later date, that the reason our street had been spared in that cyclone was because of the prayers being offered in that little house we lived in) then we also would be ok too.
I knew prayers were being offered up on our behalf. I knew friends who had never prayed before were praying for us now.
We continued to listen to the radio. At midnight we learned that the eye of the storm was just hitting land. We waited for the calm of the eye but it never came. The winds continued to blow around us.
Many of those in the house were fast asleep. The ceramic tiles were a popular spot for sleep that night as they were cool and we were all very hot and there would be no fans or open windows for relief from the heat.
Not long after midnight I too went to bed. I was surprised that I could sleep. Earlier in the day I was terrified and never dreamed that I would find sleep that evening.
I woke up through the night because of the heat. I'd have a drink of water then drift back off to sleep. Finally at around 5 I got out of bed and with some daylight I was able to see what was going on outside. Within an hour we were able to open the door and let the fresh air in. Though it was still windy it was obvious it was not damaging winds.
Earlier the day before it was arranged that I would send updates to my cousin who would in turn post the information on my facebook page so everyone could be made aware of how we were doing. The only phone calls I made were to my mother. One at 10pm to let her know we were still safe and then again at 6am to let her know were had made it through without incident and we had even slept.
Here are the miracles:
The cyclone was headed straight towards Cairns yet it turned south (which of course cyclones are known to do....change their direction). It hit between the two biggest cities in North Queensland. If there was to be lives lost (and Premier Bligh kept informing us "There will be lives lost") then it would be minimal compared to if it hit either Townsville or Cairns.
There were NO lives lost!!!!!!! This is a miracle!!!!!!!! There was one death reported due to using a generator indoors. This was so sad and will be contributed to the cyclone but it wasn't due to the winds or damage.
Though the power was out we still had network coverage for our mobile phones. It was right after I made the call to my mother to let her know all was well, that the coverage died.
While the winds were blowing all around us, there was not ONE branch that hit the roof. The 'carnage' that we woke to find in the backyard the following morning was LEAVES. Simply leaves. There was one or two grapefruits from the overhanging tree next door but that was it. While there were large trees uprooted around the corner, fences down all over the place, there had been no damage to the somewhat shoddy awnings out the front and the back. In fact, they didn't even shake during the storm and nothing hit the house. No branches. No grapefruits. No nothing. This was a direct answer to prayers offered up for the safety of the house. Of this I have no doubt.
I recognize there will be those who read this who will roll their eyes and say it was simply good luck. I have read a news article saying that there is someone from the UN/ISDR (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction) who says it wasn't a miracle that no lives were lost but rather it was good planning. I say...I was there. I lived through it. The planning was incredible and I take my hat off to Anna Bligh. Planning could do nothing to move the cyclone south to a less populated area. Planning could not keep the phone network coverage up and running. Planning could not keep items from hitting or damaging the house we were in. Planning could not have stopped the winds from blowing apart...or even shaking the awnings just a little.
God lives. He is a God of miracles.