Tropical Cyclone Debbie arrived as a category 4 cyclone and wreaked havoc.
Tropical Cyclone Debbie arrived as a category 4 cyclone and wreaked havoc.

Three years on, Tropical Cyclone Debbie remembered

THREE years ago today, one of the worst cyclones to ever hit Queensland was bearing down on the Whitsundays.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie made landfall near Airlie Beach on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, after crossing the Whitsunday Islands as a large and powerful category 4 strength system.

A peak wind gust of 263 km/h was recorded on Hamilton Island as TC Debbie approached the coast on Tuesday morning, the highest gust recorded in Queensland.

Not only did the Whitsundays take the full force of the cyclone, but no part of the region was spared.

The cyclone devastated the Whitsunday Island resorts first, before turning her fury on the mainland, with the centre of the eye crossing near Airlie Beach, at about 12.40pm AEST.

Shortly after crossing, TC Debbie slowed down to only 7 km/hr, and Airlie Beach and Proserpine were exposed to the very destructive winds near the cyclone’s core for many hours. Proserpine recorded wind gusts up to 165 km/hr.

Bowen also received significant damage and, further inland, roofs were removed at Collinsville, which experienced category 2 strength winds.

TC Debbie did not weaken below tropical cyclone strength until 3am AEST on Wednesday, March 29, more than 24-hours after she’d first struck the Whitsundays. Many people did not venture outside until Thursday, March 29, when the supermarkets reopened.

The ferocity – and duration – of TC Debbie were such that people didn’t go outside for days and, when they did, they were met with total devastation.

There were fallen trees and branches everywhere, blocking driveways and roads. Power lines were down and there was no electricity, there was no water supply, and people’s houses were battered, with roofs peeling off.

To add to the misery, TC Debbie brought tremendous downpours in the days afterwards, flooding people’s houses and wreaking havoc as the huge system made its way slowly down the coast, drenching everything beneath her.

For the two weeks following TC Debbie, it was like living in a war zone, with people washing themselves in creeks, cooking on BBQs and camping stoves, listening to ABC updates on battery radios, running out of supplies at the supermarkets because trucks couldn’t get through, and the sound of chainsaws everywhere you went.

Nicole Graham, who lost everything in the cyclone, says it was a challenging time but ultimately resilience and strength won through.

Nicole and husband Jez lost their house – it was completely uninhabitable by the time TC Debbie had passed – as well as their mobile office, their car, and their business Lady Enid Sailing.

“Our boat Lady Enid was severely damaged and was out of action for seven months, so we had no business in that time and zero help from the government,” Mrs Graham said.

“We lost the house – all the bi-fold doors broke open from the pressure outside and the roof lifted, so we had water damage - everything was soaked.

“And we lost our mobile office, when a tree fell on it, and something smashed into the side of the car.

“We also lost a lot of paperwork that was in the office – it was a nightmare. We tried to claim the dole and they asked if I had a birth certificate and a passport but it was all lost.”

It took the couple a year to get anywhere with the insurance companies and the rebuild of their home, in Cannon Valley, took a lot longer than expected.

They finally moved back in last August, after spending 14 months in a caravan on their property because they were fed up after moving hotels five times.

Thankfully, the family – the couple’s children were almost five and six at the time – stayed at Mrs Graham’s mother’s house during the actual cyclone, as it was more protected.

“Because we’d been through small cyclones, we thought everything would be fine,” she said.

“But when we got to our house, we couldn’t drive up the driveway – it took Jez three days to chainsaw through all the trees.

“It was heartbreaking having both the business and the house to deal with – both parts of our life were shattered - but we got through it. We had to band together.

“I think for Jez and I, when he was having a low day, I was OK, and when I was having a low day, he was OK, so we balanced each other out.

“Because Jez and I went though so much, we are stronger, and hopefully some of that has rubbed off on the kids – it’s about being strong and resilient.”


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