Jacqueline Steward
Jacqueline Steward

Trapped in the eye of killer storm

THE family of a former Sunshine Coast apprentice chef is furious after she and colleagues were left on an island resort in the eye of Cyclone Yasi.

Jacqueline Steward, formerly of the Blue Fish Restaurant at Mudjimba, is one of 22 staff left behind when management evacuated all guests from the $3000 a night resort on Sunday, taking with them Bedarra Island’s entire complement of water craft.

Her terrified mother Janene said from Townsville that management had ordered staff to stay.

The management were convinced that what was then a category three storm would miss the island.

Any suggestion that staff had chosen to stay in the eye of the cyclone was nonsense, Mrs Steward said.

A company spokesman said staff were being housed in groups of four in concrete bunkers with plenty of food and water and were in contact with each other through two-way radios.

“They’re in good spirits,’’ he said. “I spoke to the front office manager 45 minutes ago and they wanted Foxtel re-connected.’’

Mrs Steward said that contact Jacqueline’s sister made with her on Facebook had told a very different story.

She said her daughter and some fellow staff had pushed bed bases up against doors and were huddled in the middle of the bedroom floor.

“They are straight in line with the eye of the storm,’’ Mrs Steward said.

“We started to panic when Yasi reached category four and really panicked when it hit category five.”

Jacqueline’s sister, Greer Nagle, was able to maintain contact until lunch time.

She said staff were terrified about what lay ahead.

Greer said that from what she had been told staff were gathered in their department groups of five in five bedrooms, which were raised and which management had said were cyclone rated.

The plan was to place staff in groups of 10 in selected bathrooms while the storm’s eye passed.

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned that at its centre winds generated by Yasi would reach up to 285kmh and that destructive gusts would be experienced for up to 17 hours.

A lifetime North Queensland resident told the Daily last night that Bedarra Island would be in the thick of things when Yasi struck.

“They will do it tough,’’ Bruce Grady said.

Frantic calls were made by the family to Emergency Management Queensland and the SES in an attempt to organise evacuation but by then it was too late.

Mrs Steward claims the CEO of Hideaway Resorts, which owns both Bedarra, which sits seven kilometres off the coast between Townsville and Cairns, and Dunk Island, had insisted staff would be safe and should stay.

Mrs Steward is beside herself with fear that she will wake up this morning to be told her daughter had died.

The family, residents of Mudjimba for the past 20 years, moved up to Cairns to live after Jacqueline scored her “dream job” on the five-star resort.

They expected to lose their Palm Cove home, which sits 100 metres from the ocean, during the night.

“I have no concern about that,’’ Mrs Steward said.

“Our only concern is for our daughter.’’

The Stewards are in Townsville because Mr Steward was due to start treatment for a brain tumour. Radiation therapy was postponed because of the cyclone.

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