Northern Queensland has now endured three major cyclones, but Cyclone Yasi, which struck on Wednesday night, was the most terrifying of them all, Tully resident Herc Argyros said.
The real estate agent told Neos Kosmos the category five cyclone started to build up between 8:30pm and 9:00pm on Wednesday. “The wind started to pick up, then the rain came, and from there it was the initial wind to a point when the lull came at midnight and then it came back the other way. The whole thing was about three hours; it was just frightening,” he said.
Residents staying in their homes were advised to take cover in the most stable room of the house. Mr Argyros had six people in his house, including neighbours, planning to jump under mattresses if needed.
“We could hear a lot of things going on that we couldn’t see,” he said. “We had no power, no anything, all we could hear was the pulling of sheets of iron coming off houses and the devastation that followed. The noise was so loud you thought it was happening to your own house”.
When local radio transmissions dropped out residents of Tully did not know they would be struck by the cyclone until reports on ABC radio said it had hit Mission beach. While Mr Argyros’ house escaped damages, he said every second house suffered some sort of damage.
“Our neighbours houses are damaged, everywhere is damaged,” he said. “We’re at the bottom of a hill, if you look up the mountain all the houses are devastated, roofs are pulled off; some houses won’t be rebuilt, they’ll have to be pulled down”.
Tully’s CBD was also extensively damaged, with the business community feeling the brunt of the devastation, Mr Argyros said. “Our shop (Bonza Realty) was okay. Prior to the cyclone we barraged up windows and took all the precautions we could, but a lot of businesses have been hit”.
Mr Argyros said Cyclone Larry, in 1996, was a good learning experience in preparation for Yasi. “We were a lot more prepared, there was a well put together plan in place this time” he said.
However, the full damage of the storm is yet to be seen, he added. “A lot of our livelihood here with sugar and bananas has all been destroyed. We just got over Cyclone Larry, last year was a bad cane season due to wet weather ruining the crops, so the reality is it’s becoming harder and harder”.
When Neos Kosmos spoke to Mr Argyros on Thursday there was still no power, no landline phones and limited mobile phone networks functioning. “We’re all shocked by what’s happened, but it’s what we do and who we are; we’re a resilient community,” he said.
“When you get that fear of something like this coming at you it really frightens you but it could have been worse; no one has been killed”.
In Cairns the severe weather that followed has been worse than the cyclone itself, Father Constantine Tsacalos from St John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Cairns said. “There’s still very strong winds, we’ve had a lot of rain and have still got severe weather,” Fr Tsacalos told Neos Kosmos.
“The cyclone was frightening, there were huge winds that sounded like a plane coming through your window”.
Phones are still on and off, while roads between Cairns and Innisvale are closed due to flooding. “We were blessed that the cyclone wasn’t as fierce here, but the devastation in other places is terrible,” Fr Tsacalos said, adding that his concern is for parishioners living in Mission beach, where the cyclone hit hardest.
“It’s still not safe to be out, but I’ll be going out there as soon as I can. Right now I’m making my way to the church to make sure the Greeks are okay”.
News broke yesterday that a 23-year-old man was found dead on a property near Ingham after being overcome by generator fumes in a closed room where he was sheltering from the storm. At the time we went to press this was the only life to be claimed by Cyclone Yasi.