040. 8th February 2009. Wet, windy, wet, windy, wet, windy…
As my flight prepared to land there was a bit of buffeting of the plane from the strong winds and rain turbulence. The passengers sitting beside me commented how the countryside looked green and water logged. It was not until the plane had taxied up to the terminal they added, windy, to the description.
I shared a maxi taxi with another nine passengers. As we drove along the highway I was interested in the conversations going on around me. Three people in the seats behind me could not get over how tall the grass grew. A big guy sitting beside me kept calling out “maate” to the driver. “Maate, wheres the best place to stay?” “maate, how much longer before we get there?” and so on. The driver was patient and helpful until we dropped the passenger at Airlie Beach Hotel. The driver then said “here we are maate, the rains gunna be here for another week maate, enjoy ya stay maate!”
A couple of older female British travellers asked me which boat trips to take and why there was so much rain. The tourist brochures did not mention rain. They also mentioned they were travelling to Cairns the following week. I had to smile as I answered, this is the wet season and we usually experience some rain in a wet season. To-morrow, I predicted, the sun will come out but Cairns would be getting more rain than Airlie Beach.
How prophetic my words turned out to be.
When I got home and saw the late news on TV the weather report was interesting. There was a tropical low off the coast of Cairns and it was expected to turn into a cyclone by the following day.
Tropical Cyclone Ellie crossed the coast near Mission Beach but did not cause much damage being a category 1 cyclone. It did turn into a rain depression and drenched the coast from Mission Beach to Mackay. That includes Airlie Beach.
Ingham, about 80 klms north of Townsville seemed to cop the most rain and the Herbert River flooded the town. In many places the main highway was cut by water which delayed delivery of food and other supplies. Simply, trucks were either stranded or unable to get through the floods in several places on several highways and main roads.
Another tropical low developed off the coast and proceeded to dump more rain on an already waterlogged coast. Floodwaters again washed through Ingham. Fresh food supplies have been held up for a week and even here in Airlie Beach the supermarket fruit and veg shelves are empty. The trucks cannot get through the flooded highway. Sheesh, even the road to Charters Towers and Mt.Isa has been cut by floodwaters and they are a long way from the coast.
The Burdekin Dam has so much water running over the spillway it is estimated it is equivalent to Sydney Harbour each 24 hours.
The rain has not stopped and inside the house everything feels limp and soggy.
Fresh linen on the bed only feels fresh for an hour. Bath towels simply will not dry out and even the ceramic floor tiles feel damp underfoot. Of course the salt grinder has become a sea of mushy wet salt crystals while the salt shaker instantly forms beads of moisture around the shaker holes and the pepper grinder spits out soft pepper grounds.
Although the fans are running 24/7 to keep air circulating around the house we know that clothes and particularly shoes and belts will soon grow a beard of mould. Although the rain is constant, it often becomes heavier – which it just has, thundering down – but despite the amount of rain the wind has stopped. It is not cold. Temperature in the kitchen is still 25° C and it is comfortable to walk around in shorts and T-shirt.
Last year the rain made the ground so soggy in our back yard the car squiggled through the mud of the track which leads into the garage. I thought I had solved that problem by laying down a bed of small rocks overlaid with two inches of gravel. Hmmm. Worked for awhile but yesterday I noticed the familiar wiggle of the rear wheels as I drove in. The ground is too soggy to support the gravel. Water is also running in a constant stream through our back yard. It is a good thing we are built on a hill.
Opposite ends of the continent have opposite natural conditions waged against us. So far no deaths from the current flooding but it will only be a matter of time until somebody tries to drive across a flooded creek or some bullet proof adolescent decides to chance jumping into a raging torrent or a toddler somehow wanders away from a parent.
Of course while all this rain is falling and we have floods and minor damp problems, way down south in NSW, ACT, Vic and SA they are having heat wave conditions. Temperatures in the high 40’s and strong westerly winds have fanned bushfires which were apparently, deliberately lit. Death toll as at this morning, 8th February 2009 is 25 in Vic alone with more expected when the Police can get into area’s shut off by the fires. As I write this, news reports now say 26 dead.
One car had 6 bodies inside, presumably they were trying to flee the fire.
The cost in destroyed homes, property, pasture and stock will be enormous.
Rail services have been asked to reduce speeds by 10% as the heatwave conditions can buckle rail lines.
Television news tonight. 65 dead in the fires. One whole town destroyed.
Late news 76 dead. Two towns gone.
There is also heavy rain on its way here tonight.
It is quiet outside at the moment. 7pm. It is dark. The rain has stopped. There is no wind. The crickets and frogs are belting out their nightly chorus – only much louder than usual. Or more of them.
Up north near the Daintree a 5-year-old boy was taken by a croc in the floodwaters.
Two men are missing after their car got washed off the highway when they tried to cross a swollen creek.
Food supplies are being flown into Cairns and Charters Towers and Ingham.
The morning will tell us what happened in the north and the devastation in the south.
Tuesday morning 10th February.
Death toll from bushfires is now 173.
Over 700 homes destroyed.
Two towns are no more.
It seems some, if not all, the fires were deliberately lit.
The Prime Minister Kevin O’Seven is calling it mass murder.
The hunt goes on for a croc in The Daintree. A croc may have taken a 5-year-old boy.
A body is found near the scene where a car with 5 people on board tried to cross a flooded road near Tully. Three people escaped. Two went missing.
Thursday morning. Death toll from fires is 181 but expected to increase by next week. The small towns wiped out by the fires are closed off by the Police as a crime scene. Houseowners are only allowed in under escort in a bus and they are not permitted to leave the bus. The search goes on for the many people still missing.
Fears are the death toll will reach 300.
Hmmm. You are probably wondering. This is not a travel tale.
No. It isn’t. It started out as a simple report on a trip to Brissy but given all the rain and bushfires and heatwaves these last 10 days I thought it might be interesting to record.