Reading time: 4 minutes
I am responding to a post by a member of Landcare on the Uki community Facebook page that showed three photos of trees on a riverbank that had been trimmed and cut after Cyclone Debbie.
This act was publicly posted as “VANDALISM.”
I wrote a piece about my day with Debbie. You may have read it.
But I didn’t tell the whole story.
I can still see the floating logs that snapped trees like matchsticks.
Because of that Facebook post, it is time that I tell it.
Soggy feet – Cyclone Debbie
An almighty crash shakes the house and the bed my partner and I are sleeping in. It’s 2 am. The rain’s coming down hard. Harder than you can imagine.
Seven of us were rescued on canoes yesterday and couldn’t go home. We had been fed and clothed by an elderly couple and tried to get some sleep. Now we’re on the back veranda at 2 am looking at the river.
It rushes at a tremendous speed beneath the house. Shining a torch on flood waters that scream beneath my soggy feet makes me want to vomit. A whole tree flies past and another crash shakes the house.
Our only way out is down the front steps through neck high water, it slices like a knife. We have to risk our lives again, wet again, cold again. Another tree snaps beside the house. The crackling bark and sizzling peeling timber sounds like popcorn in a hot pot of butter.
“I suggest you guys get the hell out of there!” A man in a yellow rain coat yells from the street. He’s holding a rope.
He throws the rope; we catch and tie it to the hand rail on the front stairs. The Elderly couple don’t want to leave their house, as if somehow they can fight the river off themselves.
The Italian man and the younger of the two brothers help the elderly man down the stairs. He doesn’t want to go first, he would rather be the last. Chivalry isn’t dead, but this is survival.
The three of them cross to the other side without too much trouble. The elderly woman insists that she needs to grab something from the house and runs back inside.
The mother and her eldest son walk terrified into the river. They’re doing fine until she’s flicked off her feet screaming through mouthfuls of water. Her son throws his arm around her and drags her to shore.
The elderly man starts shrieking. He thinks he sees his partner go under the water too. The party onshore hold him back from going in after her.
I run into the house to find her fussing over a stack of letters on the kitchen counter.
“I guess it’s time to leave,” she says to me weakly.
I’m scared of crossing that water too. We step into the river together. The man in the rain coat walks in from the other side. Meeting us halfway he takes her back into the arms of her partner. Their relief is palpable.
I head back to the stairs with the water around my neck. That familiar, warm, itchy water that slices again like a knife. Any moment now a log could come and snap my legs.
Reaching my partner, I help her back into the water. That water that kicks at my feet trying to pull me under. Half way across she loses her footing, the rope bends in a wide arc and her face goes under followed by my hand instinctively lunging after her. I grab her shirt and tear the muscles in my arm pulling her onto shore. She’s safe now, but in those frightful moments I saw her body lashed lifelessly against the house a thousand times.
The town’s empty. It’s 3 am. Wide eyed, cold, and wet we shuffle our shivering bodies on soggy feet to the dry, but windy veranda of a cafe.
We watch the silhouette of a house float down the river in the dark, tearing shadows apart as it explodes a clump of trees with an almighty sound. The elderly man runs back into the rain. It could have been his house. Although he finds it still standing he returns to us badly shaken. We wait there for 4 hours for the sun.
Finally, it rises and a few of us walk back to the house we escaped from. The owners wade through the black and broken debris strewn across their once beautiful garden. They stop and stand there mortified, broken like the trees around them.
The rain stops and members of the community emerge, gawk at the devastation of the town and then pitch in to clean it up. Last night I watched that thick, heavy, bitumen peel off the Uki bridge like the page of a paper pamphlet.
Today, I know that the spirit of Uki can stand against a cyclone.
That day 2 months ago, and today it’s flooding again. I think i know it’ll be ok, like before Debbie. But still my mind takes me back to that day with every falling raindrop.
Now, both shock and dread dance on ice skates across my nervous system when I simply take a shower. I look up into the trees and see debris hanging like badly broken banshees. I can feel my neck up there with them in that water too. That water that sliced like a knife and snapped trees like matchsticks.
On a daily basis, the constant sight of broken trees and pieces of debris takes us back to Debbie. Naturally, our community is deeply traumatised, and we must not forget that. Some of us are having a hard time moving on.
The signs of trauma are on so many faces. We’ve had war veterans suffering flashback after flashback from the devastation of Debbie. I’ve watched many strong, proud people break down into tears, and I too have conceded that I have some form of post trauma from my experience. I thought I was over it, but I’d just ignored it. Trying to move on.
That Facebook post said, ”VANDALISM,” and it shook me for three days.
I can’t for the life of me see how the trimming of trees that were snapped like matchsticks in a mega storm, is an act of wilful destruction in our community.
I ask, “What is the difference between cleaning up a decimated riverbank, and ‘land care’?”
Fair go. We’ve still got soggy feet.
– Corey Fisher.
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