Cyclone Yasi in Cairns – my report


Our Cyclone Yasi report from Cairns

The Short
:Cairns was extremely lucky, Yasi veered south putting us in the best , North West quadrant. We got a little less wind than in Cyclone Larry, I would rate Yasi a Cat 1 for us, lot of branches and tree damage.

The Full Report
: Firstly we prepared for cyclone Anthony, due to hit the coast late Saturday Jan 29 2011. It eventually veered 400 kms South of us and fizzled into a huge rain depression. Thanks to that we were already in some state of cyclone readiness.

I began watching the depression that became Yasi on Sunday 30th Jan. It was west of Fiji which is 3,400kms away, so far that our Aussie Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) were not issuing cyclone watches or warnings.

On Monday YASI developed further and the US Joint Typhoon Warning centre forecast had it pointing almost right at Cairns.

It was Time to worry. In the last 3 years the JTWC predictions have always been correct earlier than the BOM, so I watch both sets of predictions. I also check Western Pacific Weather, they issue a youtube video which features several predictions and explains what the weather is doing, which helps understand it all.

On Tuesday 1st of February Yasi was looking HUGE, bigger than any cyclone we have experienced on the East Coast of Australia.

It was time to make serious preparations.

We are on the hillslopes, safe from any flooding and have a large inner room whose back wall is underground, with rooms all around it and a second floor above. In this room we feel safe. But if this monster hit Cairns there would be total devastation, so we planned on being totally self-sufficient for at least two weeks. That’s Water, Food and Electricity.

Shed Mate Steve advised me to make a video of all the household contents etc, very useful in the case of an insurance claim. I made the video and also took photo’s of everything. We worked hard all Tuesday, preparing the outside as best we could and getting last minute things like Prescriptions and Money, and topping up Gas, Fuel, dry biscuits, cheese and other provisions.

On Wednesday morning Yasi was moving at 35 knots and was so large that the satellite images showed the edges touching New Guinea at the top and Noumea in the South. That is a distance of 1800 kilometres!! We were warned on the radio that there had never been a cyclone this large hit our coast in human history. It was Cat 5, one stage higher than the cat 4 Cyclone Tracy that devastated Darwin.

We spent the day mostly preparing indoors. We moved all our important documents, the gas cooking gear and utensils, dishes, cups, cutlery, batteries, torches, kero lamps, portable radios, all our important clothes and valuables to the cyclone room. It was an enormous job to move basically everything we had into one downstairs room. I even took the aerial off the roof and moved the new TV downstairs.

I cooked a casserole in the hot pot, so we would have a good meal at the end of the day when Yasi was predicted to begin having affect on us. We were very concerned at the devastation ahead and what would happen to us and our house. It could change our lives.

I checked the weather radar constantly all of Wednesday. The predictions gradually showed it hitting the coast South of us. At first only 40kms and then later in the day below Innisfail, about 90kms away. In cyclone Larry this distance would have been enough to save us from annihilation but because of the severity and size of Yasi, we felt we were in for a bad time.

The wind and rain were due around 4pm. Outside the weather had been quite sunny for the last 2-3 days, it was unbelievable to think such a monster was out there. At lunchtime we had a short rain shower and some wind for 5 minutes then back to sunshine and light winds. During the afternoon we had the quick rain and gusty wind return about 3 times but at 6pm we still had no heavy wind and I started to think our house would survive. The North West quadrant of the cyclone had yet to touch the coast at Cairns while the South East quadrant was already hitting Townsville 380kms away.

We spent the evening in the cyclone room, ate the casserole and watched DVD’s. The experience was made harder by having to look after Mo’s 80 year old Mum who has dementia and has no short term memory.

Stronger gusts began around 9.30/10pm. The Electricity went off at 11.30pm. By midnight I didn’t think it would get any worse, so we went to sleep. It was very hot and muggy in the airless cyclone room, with no aircon or even a ceiling fan. Mo’s mum couldn’t understand why the light switches didn’t work, so Mo shone a torch for her to visit the bathroom, several times. She was very confused and disorientated.

Here’s the satellite picture as enormous Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast near Tully with well defined and large eye. Cairns is a little bump on the coast, about 5mm above the eye, at the edge of the bright red –

It was all over by dawn the next morning.The area around Lucinda, Hull heads and Tully, where the eye crossed the coast, had taken the fiercest part of cyclone Yasi for around 12 hours. We had wind for just a few hours and much moderated because of being in the North West Quadrant. The Cairns weather station shows that our strongest gust was 50 knots, half of that at the center. It’s hard to say what wind strength we had here in Bayview Heights, the mountains around us both shield and funnel the wind so it can be less and more than out at the airport weather station where it is flat.

I woke up to the sound of the neighbour’s generator. I set off round to the fusebox at the back of the house, to throw the switches to connect our generator to the house circuit. A large 4 metre tall Hibiscus had blown completely over, roots and all, and was blocking the path. I managed to squeeze through on a thin strip of the neighbour’s land, with a large dog watching me. Having turned off the mains power switch and connected the generator to the house supply, I set the generator up outside and it started first pull. YAY we had electricity to keep our two fridges cold. The two freezer compartments were jam packed full of food and most important to our 2 week survival strategy.

Expecting the worst, we had been prepared to loose our roof and maybe the entire top story which is timber. We sheltered downstairs which is block, in the rooms that are half built into the hill, so we would survive, but with the roof gone I suspect the tiled 1st floor would leak and we’d be wet.

Looking round at the mess of leaves, and branches of every size, I could see that we got a little less of a blow than from Larry. A lot of trees and branches broken, mess everywhere, but generally houses and people safe.

3 hours of generator running and the noise was already getting to me, when it suddenly sounded like it was working very hard. Before I could do anything it stopped producing electricity. The generator still looks like new and has done less than 100 hours work. The reset switch had popped. I pushed it back in, the engine would run but no electricity. Bugger!! I removed the reset switch and checked continuity across the reset switch- yes it was working but no power.

This was a major setback. We had no Ice, and were relying on the generator. It was not a good time to be looking for Ice because I had heard it was all gone the day before. I drove round to Shed Mate Bob’s place and saw he had a spare generator that he’d borrowed from work, but it had no pull cord. I offered to fix the cord if I could borrow it, but decided that it would be best to look for some Ice first because the later I left it, the harder it would be to find some.

I drove all over Cairns South looking for Ice. It seemed 30,000 people were all doing the same thing, plus getting petrol. The queue’s at the fuel stations were unbelievable. At one Servo there were 50 people in a queue to the till!! Didn’t these guys prepare???

Everywhere I was told ‘There is No Ice in Cairns’. I decided to go to the source, the Ice Works. As I got there I saw people with wheelbarrows full of ice loading their cars. YES!! I dashed in and found they had block ice- this form of ice lasts the longest. I bought 8 blocks from a pallet sitting out in the hot sun- it was selling so fast it didn’t matter!!

I came home with the ice and we began our old Esky system where we have one esky that is set up as a store, not to be opened for a few days, then a 2-3 day esky and a 1 day esky for the milk etc. We covered the eskies in multiple layers of rugs and blankets to try and make the ice last as long as possible.

The long term esky, buried beneath blankets, rugs etc –

Then I took some pull cord and tools round to Bob’s place and fixed the spare genny, but we couldn’t get it to start. It had a good spark and my guess was that the carby was gummed up. We couldn’t undo the bottom drain nuts & it didn’t look easy to remove the carby. As it wasn’t his, and I had Ice, we were reluctant to mess with it.

I came home and began moving everything back, a job that took several days and still isn’t finished as I write this a week later. But we know where a lot of stuff is now.

Mo’s Mum was rather disturbed by everything and especially no electricity. We were worried about what to do with her that evening, to keep her amused, and I decided we would sit on the veranda with a kero lamp, eat our dinner and watch the weather!! It turned out a very good plan because we had a huge Tropical Storm, with sheet rain, about 100mms of water every 15 minutes, lightning and thunder- it was awesome and well worth watching.

I discovered that the gas stove won’t light without electricity. What the heck is the point of having two sources of power if one relies on the other??? You would need to hold a blow torch on the glow bar ignition to get it started and I suspect every time the oven reached temperature and switched off, it would need re lighting again. Something needs to be done about that for next time.

So for the evening meal I thawed a frozen Shepherds Pie on the BBQ, drank beer and watched the storm. Because Mo’s mum was so unsettled I slept downstairs with a torch and left a nightlight candle burning so she could find the bathroom. For the first half of the night I heard the light switches clicking on and off several times and some muttering!!

The next day(Friday). At 8am I was extremely lucky to find a generator repairer and drove there as fast as I could to get in the queue. It was worth doing because at 10:30am the genny was fixed. A large capacitor had failed.

I restarted the genny but kept hearing it struggle. I HAVE run 2 fridges with it 2 times before- I thought something else drawing a heavy current was connected. I checked everywhere but couldn’t find anything else turned on. For safety’s sake I was only running one fridge and a lot of food had to be left in the long term esky.

I put the TV aerial back on Thursday but reception was very bad, not that it mattered because we were very busy returning things that day and the next. I had unscrewed the legs of the two veranda tables to make storage easier, there was a lot to put right. Friday lunchtime I went on the roof to fix the TV- after extensive testing, starting at the wrong end, I finally found the problem of why it wasn’t working –

Some Idiot had forgotten to re connect the cable from the Kingray amplifier to the house, when he re connected the aerial on Thursday!!! The next time I am in front of a mirror I shall have a few words with him.

While up on the roof admiring the view through a film of sweat, I noticed movement in the pool water, just as if the pump was running. Our pool is on economy tariff 33 – (18 hours a day supply which is separate from the house supply that the genny was powering )

That meant the power was back on – Yippee–

I turned the generator off. Threw the switches in the fuse box round the back of the house – HUH!! no power to the house. . . . that’s strange…….. oh and the pool pump has stopped!!

YEP, the generator had been trying to run 2 fridges and a pool pump when it carked !! THAT EXPLAINS IT – no wonder it threw the reset switch, it was exactly at the time the pool pump comes on.

We had a new fuse box installed 2 years ago. The electrician assured me that he had connected the pool pump to the Tariff 33 supply, and we even went up to the meters at the top of the drive and he showed me the tariff 33 meter running. (but it must have been the hot water, not the pool.)

We should have the hot water and the pool on that tariff. Obviously the pool is connected to the house circuit and we have not been getting an economy rate for the last 2 years!!!

The things you discover in times of emergency!! That should save a few $s each electricity bill once I get it fixed.

The noise of the genny was really annoying. I built a ‘Cone of Silence’ around it so that the sound went out to the courtyard and was a little muffled for the veranda and house. I used an old boat awning. It dulled the high yapping sound a bit.

The palm is to mark the brick holding one of the lines. I need a ring bolt
in the concrete!

Honda 5.5 hp 2.5KVA generator, plumbed into the house Electric Circuit and the old thick vinyl awning from Legato –

On Saturday night we suspected that everyone around us had power, but we didn’t. I ran the genny until 10:45pm and had a hot nights sleep with no fan or aircon. I had about 5 cold showers during the day because I was soon soaked in sweat from head to toe again. I used 4 pairs of shorts! There was no hot water of course because it is on Tariff 33 (unlike the pool!!) but the cold water was about 28C so not really a problem except for the first few seconds because of being so hot when first standing under it.

At dawn on Sunday I checked, there was still no electricity. I walked up the drive and noticed a neighbour had their aircon on hmmmm Then another neighbour across the road told me the power had returned at 1:30pm Saturday – Bummer, what’s happening ? A couple of trips up and down the drive to get some tools and check switches in the meter box at the top of the driveway kept me fit and sweaty. The result was that no power was coming into our meter box.

I rang Ergon and lodged a fault, the operator said the most likely thing was the pole fuse, a 10 minute fix, but they had more important work to do than fix one house, which is fair enough. So we were put in the queue. I imagined it might be a week before we would get power back. The genny noise gets to you after a while and it is too noisy to run overnight otherwise we could at least have a ceiling fan on.

There was no electricity all Sunday and we ran the genny till 10:30pm, then switched off, threw the power switches and voila! we had mains power back YAY!! They must have fixed it sometime between 6pm and 10:30pm- Good onya Ergon

I was just about to get into bed, with fan and aircon running, when I remembered the pool which had a lot of leaves and small branches blown into it. I had scooped out as much as I could while having a cooling dip on Thursday but it was still looking a bit green. I put some shorts on and went out into the night to switch the pump to manual and run the filter through the night. Luckily I had dumped 20l of liquid chlorine into it on Friday and the overnight running did the trick. On Monday morning it looked clear again and has stayed that way for a week.

I still have to service the generator and put it away till next time and another job planned, thanks to Yasi, is to clean the pool shed out before putting everything back, that could be an all day job!!

The devastation further South, in places like Tully is on the news every day. The poor buggers down there still haven’t got their power on and a lot of people are homeless. There was a large tidal surge which damaged and destroyed coastal homes. We are sorry for those guys. I notice that even here in Cairns, where we got off extremely lightly, everyone is sharing a sort of trauma. The experience has had a strong affect on everyone.

The local newspaper building was evacuated for the first time in it’s 120 year history and a core group of newsmen set up in a local hotel to keep the paper going. The Editor’s wife phoned him late on the night Yasi approached. She said,”I’m so scared this will be the last time I ever speak to you”.

(Cairns Post 12th Feb 2011, page 10)

That is how we felt.

Why do we live here- there are times when we wonder – Shed Mate Les sums it up –

“It is a PITA – but just think of all the time we get to spend basking in tropical glory.
If you lived down South you’d be bitterly cold and complaining for 3 months of every year….
This is the price we pay I guess”

Here’s a time lapse video of 81 hours of Cyclone Yasi as it approaches and crosses the coast –


2 Responses to “Cyclone Yasi in Cairns – my report”

  1. Tim de Ferrars says:

    Good to hear you came through so well, Rob. So much of it is in the lap of the gods, but it sounds like you were well prepared. Caring for your mother-in-law sounds like a whole extra dimension of worry – not easy for anyone.
    We get big storms here in SW France every 10 years or so, but the power goes down every time there is a clap of thunder (no underground cables here). I got so fed up running around in the dark getting soaked and wrenching my right shoulder trying to start the generator that I now do a ‘drill’ every couple of months. I know it’s anal, but it’s worth it. But like yours, the sodding genny will probably blow up when it matters….

  2. Terry Chapman says:

    Just read this Rob, seems like you had a lot of fun!!!!! My generator is wired into the system in such a way that all you have to do is … hum key start the genny then switch the mains off and switch the external power on easy… and the generator is house in a block house with the southerly side open to keep it cool and the fence is only 2m away so it is fairly protected. Bummer about your poor little gen trying to do the pool as well Hope you have had a go at the sparky that did the inital work!!!!! The generator I have is called a Whisper Quiet ha ha if this is whisper quiet I would not like to hear the noisy one!!!!!! It was one of the first things I purchased when I moved here as I knew from previous visits that there were many power outages here so we were prepared from the outset. That comes from not only being marinized but being a Queens Scout…..!

    Cheers for now and we await the next little blow.

    Terry C

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