Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Cyclone Marcia: 6 months later (Part 1)

Six months ago, on February 20th, 2015, Cyclone Marcia hit Queensland and left a lasting mark on our community. 

This is my story. 


To fully understand the beginning bit, I have to explain how my school prom works. It's called "formal" here, and according to a friend "proms have disco balls and formals have long dresses". I'm not 100% sure how accurate that is, but because I haven't been to either that's the definition I'm sticking with. It's held at the beginning of the school year (February) so that we can focus on our exams at the end of the year. 

The whole school goes to the senior commissioning mass in the morning, where the grade twelves pledge to be responsible and to be leaders of the school, and the school recognizes that we're leaders. After that, the seniors go to get ready for formal (hair, makeup, nails, etc.) and everyone else has to go back to school. 

At around 4pm-ish, the seniors go back to school, all dressed up, and start walkthrough. Walkthrough is basically where the seniors walk through the school (who saw that one coming?) and parents and friends take pictures and whisper about which dress is their favourite. The seniors and their dates head off to the local resort/hotel, where I assume they eat dinner and dance. Once again, I haven't been yet, so I'm not 100% sure. The cool part is that they get to wear their nails for a whole week, so I'm always jealous because we usually have to go without nail polish. 

That's how it usually goes. Last February, we got rained out by a cyclone. 


During the cyclone


Everyone was really excited for formal (and by excited, I mean really excited. It was all anyone could talk about). I had shopped for three excruciating wonderful days for my dress in Seattle with my friends (my friends were what made it bearable and even fun) and had my hair and everything ready. 

Then the weather reports started coming in. It was going to rain, and it was going to be windy. Things were looking bad for the walkthrough. After all, no one wanted to get their hair and dresses wet. We weren't superheroes. We couldn't fight the elements and still look fabulous at the same time. (Well, I couldn't, at least.) A couple of days before formal, it was announced that walkthrough could be cancelled due to the weather, but it would have to be decided later on in case the weather changed. 

The day before, on February 18th, the bad weather had been upgraded to a cyclone. It was only a category one or two at that point, but still. Things weren't looking too good. Previous years had been rained out of a walkthrough, but never a formal. 

We showed up to mass the next day, hopeful that walkthrough would go ahead. Unfortunately, the whole formal was cancelled. I was really proud of the way that the school handled it. They put safety first and explained that they couldn't have us driving out to the resort with the probability of the flooded roads. There were some crying girls, of course, but I was secretly thrilled. After all, who gets to have their formal cancelled because of a cyclone? This was too cool. 

By the end of the mass, the cyclone had been upgraded to a category three (and for some reference, hurricane Katrina was a three as well). So what did I do? I went home and watched Batman Begins, obviously. It hadn't really sunk in at this point what was happening. I thought we would just wait it out; we'd been through storms and a small cyclone before and all that'd happened was that there were some really strong winds and heavy rain. I emailed my friends, who all had the same idea that I had. Someone was having sushi, someone else was watching Hawaii Five-O. 

I even went to work that afternoon. Besides, it wasn't supposed to hit until about 4am the next day and it was only a category three. It was a category four by the time I was off work, and that's when I started to get scared. 

The upgrade to a four really scared my family. After all, what we had been through before was only small cyclone. And this was a category four? Insane. 

The Bureau of Meteorology's predictions for Marcia. Source


We prepared for the worst, not sure of what was coming. We taped big "X"s on our windows in case they shattered from flying debris, then stowed anything that could fly around in closets or drawers. Anything that was really valuable (like our computer, all the hard drives with the pictures, passports, etc. (and my formal dress, though I still couldn't figure out why. I thought it was fine in my closet)) was put in the car in the garage in case we had to leave. We packed overnight suitcases and bins of food and water in case. 

The part I remember very clearly was us all standing around the computer, staring at the screen. Cyclone Marcia had been upgraded to a category five. 

Five. Five. Five. The words kept ringing in my head. The scariest part was not knowing. We didn't know if we should leave and go to a shelter, or if we'd be fine where we were. We were on relatively high ground and our house was new, but still. It was a five. Images of piles of timber, all that was left of a neighbourhood, strewn across fields came to mind. 

We decided to stay the night at our house. The cyclone was now supposed to hit at 10am the next day, so we figured that if we needed to go, we could. That night, we had pizza for supper and watched Man on a Ledge while I journaled. It was oddly normal. Looking back on my journal, I was very perplexed about why everyone was so concerned about my dress. 

We all slept in the living room that night. Us kids were sleeping there anyways because that was the room with the air conditioning and it was summer, but Mom and Dad moved in, too. We even had a mattress in the bathroom in case one of the windows in the living room broke and we had to get out. Strangely enough, I fell asleep within minutes. 

***

I woke up at 4am the next morning. Dad had gotten a text from a friend at work who had been evacuated, and to our horror we discovered that we had been texted the evacuation notice as well. 

That was it. The deciding factor. We needed to go as soon as possible. 

If you were to pack everything important to you, what would you take? That was the choice I was faced with. 

I kept thinking, I can't be evacuated. Being evacuated is for other people, the people on TV. Not me. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was going through a similar thing to Offred in The Handmaid's Tale. As she said,  “We were the people who were not in the [news]papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print... We lived in the gaps between the stories.” I was no longer living in the gaps between the stories, and it wasn't a spot I enjoyed being in. 

When you're in utter panic, your mind does strange things. The first thing I did was get dressed. Reasonable enough, I suppose. Then, I did my hair. Brushed it. Make sure it didn't look like I had four hours of sleep. Why? I'm not sure. Mom had to drag me away, and that's when I realized that I was being stupid. But still, it seemed like a good idea at the time. My sister stood in the middle of the kitchen and asked herself what she needed the most. She picked up a Lego minifigure for our brother. It sounds crazy now, but it seemed reasonable then. 

We already had our bags packed, so we were gone very quickly. After checking on our neighbours, we headed for my brother's school (which doubled as a shelter), where some of our friends were. It didn't look like a category five cyclone was on its way. It was raining, sure. But I'd seen rain before. 

Everything seemed so surreal. We were suddenly having to worry about things like water and power and shelter when 24 hours ago I was mostly concerned about tripping over my dress at formal. 

I'd like to say something about fighting the growing storm to the school, huddling in the dark as our roof was blown off, crying as the storm shook our building and standing stunned in front of what was left of our house, but that'd be lying. 

For us, Cyclone Marcia was actually a lot of fun. 

***

You can find Part 2 here

2 comments:

  1. Im really enjoying your blog. It helps me understand what its like to live in Australia and its also verryyy entertaining. Keep it up! - Leah

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    1. Aw, thanks Leah! Yeah, that was one of the reasons why I started this blog. There's so much cultural ignorance and misunderstanding that's really hard to get around unless you do something crazy like us and move halfway around the world. I just wanted to lessen that confusion, especially because I'm caught in the middle of it all. Thanks for your lovely comment!

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