Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just Like Dorothy!

We had just come back from a big weekend celebrating our friend Mick Fanning's 30th birthday up in Byron and visiting our friends, Al and Cindy, and their kids. Joe had been sick all the week before and we were pretty exhausted from several late nights and the trip itself. The drive home was pretty intense with plenty of rain and flooding across the highway just before our turn off.

We put the kids to sleep early and Joe relaxed in front of the telly while I had a couple glasses of wine while skyping with my friend Michelle. We went to bed around 11.30 and were looking forward to a nice big sleep.

I woke up at about 6.00 in the morning to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof. I wear an eye mask to sleep, so not only did I look particularly glamorous with my unwashed hair, my stripey flannel pyjamas, and my leopard print light blocker, I was also oblivious to the lightning that was apparently flashing across the sky.

During the next twenty minutes the rain got louder and louder and louder to a point that I have never heard anything like it. All of the sudden there was an almighty crash. This will bring the kids running, I thought! And it sure did. Well, sort of. True came running in, but Rêve was already cuddled up in my bed. The door burst open and so did True's mouth.

"There's a fire and sparks and an explosion everywhere at the bowlo!" he yelled.

Well nothing gets me up and out of bed than the possibility of danger. They don't call me Five Alarm Carm for nothing!

We raced into the kitchen and peered across the street at the bowlo. We could see straight away that the flag pole had been knocked over and there were bits of broken tree branches all over the place. We saw Keryn, the cleaner, come out of the club looking a little bit stunned.

I went out on the deck and yelled across to her to see if she was okay. She said she was fine but that we should called Triple 0 because there were downed powerlines across the road. She was soon stopping cars from driving through. After we made the call, curiosity got the better of us.

The rain had stopped and there was an eerie silence all around. The world was still grey tinged because the sun had not yet risen. We started walking across the street and just couldn't believe our eyes. There were large trees down across the road and the club carpark. There were bits of metal roofing wrapped around poles and draped across power lines. There were bits of wood impaled in houses and into the ground.

Then we looked closer.

The bowling club roof was half gone!

Joe was busy taking photos on his iPhone and I ran back and got our camera.

The neighbours' houses that face the club had all suffered some sort of damage. The first house in town was newly renovated and was now missing a roof and all it's windows. The one next door had busted windows on all sides and their car had also lost three windows. The next house was missing heavy roofing tiles, which later were found in the middle house. Sharon and Wayne's house across from us had smashed windows out the back and a large piece of rafter had struck the house with such force it came through the wall inside beside the fridge.

At the end of our street is a big bushy area that was now littered with insulation and large pieces of corrugated iron. The house at the end of the street belongs to Glen Ralston. The large long green bush fire fence he had been told to erect by council was now bent, buckled and broken in several spots. Just beyond there was a swath cut through the trees and the area was covered with broken branches.

We had just had a tornado!

We wandered around the bowlo carpark and our street for a while drinking hot Ovaltine that Joe whipped up on our camp stove. Rêve  was still sleeping. He finally woke up around 10.30, completely unaware of what had gone on.

When Helen, the club manager and her husband Phil, the greenskeeper showed up later we showed them around with all the pride of parents of newborn twins. Phil and Helen live on the far side of town and had basically slept through the whole thing until someone called them to come down.

Everyone did their best to get interviewed by the various news stations that had arrived. NBN was first on the scene and I helped Sky get an interview with Essie who was the bloke in the house next to the reno house. He lives there with his wife and two young children. The baby boy woke up because of the noise of the storm so Essie had taken him into the kitchen to rock him back to sleep. He said he was standing there and heard the storm build and could vaguely see that the trees were bent over in the dark. Suddenly there was all sorts of sparks and a bang and he just ran and hid against a wall to protect his little boy and all the glass smashed in and everything went flying and then it was all done! Must have been terrifying!

True was awake and had just put his XBox on when he heard the crash. He went outside to have a look and it was all sparks and crazy and then came up to us. We have since suggested that perhaps next time he just come up to us and not go outside...

Anyway, after the kids had done their various walk byes while the cameras were rolling and Rêve had given the world the finger in the background we offered our help and then went home to grab a bite to eat. We tried to think of what to do with no electricity. Neighbour Bec came over and we thought maybe we would play some board games. We looked over at the club, and there was Phil and Ray Ray starting to clean up the greens.

Since we had offered, we all put on gumboots and went over to lend a hand. I thought we'd be there for ten or fifteen minutes, but about three hours later we were still there. Bec and I had raked and carried all the debris off one of the greens. This included brick seats, green shade cloths, broken branches and one small dead bird.

Not long after several other blokes in town showed up and they were on the other side of the club with Joe and the SES cleaning up tree branches and large and small chunks of metal and insulation. A group of us girls went into the club and moved all the cloth furniture and tables from the main bar into the dining area as it still had a roof.

They decided to tarp the bar and the gaming machines so I ran home and got our big camping tarp and several little ones. Another fella brought over his big arse tarp and there was plenty of coverage. I suggested we rescue the bottles of alcohol that line the back wall. My offer of storing them at my house was met with laughter, so we ended up putting them in a cupboard behind the bar.

There was a big crack in the main beam of the bar and a large rafter had smashed through the ceiling almost hitting the carpet. There were big cracks between the ceiling and the wall even in the restaurant. And there was a beam of sunlight pouring through and gaping hole above the bain maries.

The men who work at the club were worried about how to protect the poker machines. I suggested calling up some of the more avid players and watch as they draped themselves over their favorite money suckers. But apparently there are health and safety issues, so we just draped a tarp over them until they could be removed.

Eventually some safety people came and kicked everyone out of the club, but basically most of the work was done. We'd even saved all the photos and certificates that lined the wall, taking the greatest care of Polly's fish. You don't want a mad Maori, not matter how tiny she is!

By this point it was actually quite hot outside and everyone was pretty sweaty and tired from all the work of clearing up downtown Red Rock. We coerced the club into selling us a few slabs on tic and we all retired to the deck.

A little while later we saw that Wingy and Sunni who run the Chinese restaurant - the Red Wok - were wandering around the front of the club looking pretty helpless. Everyone was pretty much gone by then except some gawkers, so we went out to see what we could do to help.

Soon everyone was back up moving four large freezers of food over to neighbour James' shed where they could keep working until we found out what was happening with their insurance. The boys all chucked in and it didn't take long til that was all sorted. We asked around for extra freezers and Tim and Katie came to the party with one, bringing it on the back of a trailer and also some young fellow from Corindi who had recently moved from over West brought one down for them to use as well.

Finally it seemed all the hard work was done and the excitement was over. The whole gang was back on the deck and us girls prepared some rice and a whole bunch of Chinese food that Wing and Sunni had given to us as a thank you.

By this point more stragglers had arrived. Cathy and Ben Pellow couldn't make it home from Corindi due to the flood waters so they came to stay the night. There were two random girls that rented out James' place because they couldn't get to Brisbane, but they had no food and everything in town was shut. So they all got fed too.

The ABC had a live feed set up and there were seven blokes that hadn't eaten for ages looking a bit miserable with their limp white bread sandwiches so we brought over plates of food for them. They were ferried across the road by all the young kids and the guys were thrilled. Young Zoe and I brought them over a beer each and then offered them seconds. The last four blokes took up the offer of seconds and Zoe did a beautiful welcome to country for them. After they finished their news report we invited them back to the deck to meet the locals which they happily did. By the time they got up there though, every one had a their "more than merry" hats on and it was all quite raucous.

We introduced them to Stone's Ginger Wine (a Red Rock deck party staple) and of course I was dropping F bombs and other naughty words like a Honours Student of the School of Tourettes. They, like may other people, suggested that we just reopen the club on our deck. I wasn't sure how I felt about P****making himself at home and gorging on plates of food all day and Joe wasn't thrilled with the idea of J**** waking him up early in the morning to borrow twenty bucks to put through the pokies!

After a couple cups of tea, a few beers and draining the last of our Stone's,  the ABC guys decided it was time to hit the road. We offered them the option of staying at Dr. Phil's empty holiday house at the end of the road, but they declined. And it was a good thing too!

Not an hour after they left, there was a big brown out, where the lights got light and dark and light and dark. Amid cheering and laughter, we got out and lit about four thousand tea candles in preparation for a black out. Tony kept saying my candles smelled funny but I thought it was because some of them were fancy frangipani shaped lights.

Tony insisted he could smell burning plastic. Then wood. Suddenly Joe leapt up.

"The fucking freezers!"

He was sure that all the freezers we moved in Jame's shed had caught on fire. In retrospect, we should have known it was not the case because it didn't smell like a Chinese BBQ.

"Call Triple 0! Calling fucking Triple 0!"

Well, something was on fire!

I ran downstairs to see what was happening while Katie called Triple 0.

Glen Ralston's house was completely on fire and Dr. Phil's was already looking charred on one side.

The boys leaped into action. They went around banging on doors and waking people up - although most people were still awake probably listening to us noisy crew on the deck. Tony made everyone move their cars off the street and over to the bowlo. Anna and the other mothers gathered all the kids and brought them to safety across the road in the carpark and then moved them to Anna's house.

Eventually about eight fire engines showed up. At one point it looked like Dr. Phil's place was going to totally catch so Joe started getting a few precious things out of the house but then thought fuck it. He had the photos, the computers and the hard drives. The kids were safe and so was I so it was all good.

We watched the house burn and burn and burn until the police arrived and decided to send everyone away. Joe had an argument with a copper trying to find out if it was safe for us to go home with all the crazy electricity but the officer remained staunchly unhelpful til the end. We waited on the deck until almost all the crews left. An SES officer came over and said that, although they reckoned it was safe to stay for the night, why didn't we all turn off our power and sleep somewhere else for the night as it was probably going to put our minds at ease. Which we did.

Welcome to hotel Tony and Anna!

The next day we found out that almost all the houses on our street had not just lost electricity but they also lost all their appliances that were plugged in due to a huge power surge that blasted through six or seven houses. Somehow we remained unscathed. I have no idea how.

We did however end up with no internet or phone for over a week and it's still running kinda shitty.

The area is now being called a disaster area and there is assistance available from Centrelink and the council for all those people who were affected by the storm.


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