10 years since a tornado changed Lennox Head forever
FOR Yani Murray, it only feels like yesterday that the tornado ripped apart her home as her mother was preparing to make her and her sister a hot chocolate before school.
She was only 10 at the time, with her sister Hannah, who was 7, and both will never forget what happened.
"It still feels like yesterday," Ms Murray said.
"It doesn't feel like 10 years ago," she said.
"When we talk about it in the street everyone seems to agree it feels so surreal that it has been 10 years already.
"Because for us it was such a significant thing in a little street where not that much usually happens."
Significant indeed ‒ 12 houses were destroyed, trees were uprooted, powerlines destroyed and cars written off.‒
The tornado was reported as being 100m wide with wind speeds in excess of 150km/h when it struck around 7.30am on June 3, 2010, just in front of the Lennox Head pub.
"It sunk in later when I realised the house I had basically been born in was gone and that is when it really changed us, I think," Ms Murray said.
Yani's mother Heike said they knew something was up as they watched a giant 4-5m boat float past the front doors, off the ground like a hovercraft.
Then the wind exploded through the back door ripping everything out of the cupboards in the kitchen and smashing through the front door, with Heike throwing herself over her two girls like a protective shield.
"And it sounded like a jumbo jet crashing," she said.
She carefully watched the doors in the house, trying to decide which one to run out of with the girls, should the need arise.
"I thought that is our only chance and if we are covered under some heavy furniture, we might not be able to escape," she said.
They still had a ceiling, but the roof was gone and slowly the water started pouring through.
The family navigated power lines to get to the neighbours, with Heike returning to switch off the gas in case of an explosion.
More than 100 people rang the Richmond-Tweed SES for urgent assistance, with a mother and daughter taken to hospital with minor head injuries and more than 50 emergency workers responding to requests for help.
Along Stewart and Gibbon streets, several multi-million dollar houses, some newly built, were left in ruins, with debris strewn across previously manicured lawns.
The experience changed the Murray family forever.
Yani now volunteers for the Rural Fire Service as a result of the experience.
"When the bushfires started at the start of the year I volunteered," she said.
"Because as soon as I saw it on TV, I knew the last thing those people would want is all those people saying 'I feel so sorry for you, or here some clothes that I don't need anymore'.
"It's not what you really want.
"There is so much more to it. And I felt like I couldn't just watch it either having been through a natural disaster.
"I couldn't just sit here and watch it on television.
"I had to do something."
Heike remembers the kindness of the community.
"It might influence your way of living when you are thinking of the dramatic moments and the loss and the fear, but what has stuck with us too was the support.
"You just learn from it that you are never ever totally alone."
People who had to be evacuated from their homes were being cared for at an evacuation centre set up at the Lennox Head Bowls and Sports Club during the event but for Yani it was little moments that struck her.
"To the outside I looked fine.
"And even if you put on the brave face at school as a parent, some people just get you.
"They look through, and they ask the right questions, and you burst into tears and you realise how fragile you actually are."
Kaye Crether, who lives on Pacific Parade, was getting ready to go to work when she heard an almighty roar that sounded like a plane crashing, and looked out the back window of her two story house to see a massive amount timber and debris flying through the air in a whirlpool.
"I thought it was a tornado and I ran down stairs thinking I would be safe, and as I ran down my garage door blew in, so I ran back up thinking, 'where I am going to go to be safe?' and by the time I had done that, it was over the top of us and it was almost all over," she said.
"But it ripped a whole pile of caravans over in the caravan park and then it just disappeared.
"And I was so shaken I didn't know what had happened.
"There was a couple across the road from us in a tent that were outside holding onto their tent and it completely missed them and went over the other way and rolled all the caravans over.
"It still scary whenever I think of it and if I see any signs of storms or anything now I just shudder because it was so frightening.
"I've come to grips with it now.
"But I was having nightmares and fairly unsettled for quite a lot of months after it happened.
"It wasn't a pleasant experience that's for sure."
Graeme Barnes was at work in Ballina when he got a phone call saying that a tornado had hit Lennox Head.
"Obviously it went from the pub diagonally down to the old blue units on the corner through the caravan park there," he said.
"So all the damage in the caravan park, because I used to do a little bit of work in the park, was straight in through the gate at the end of this street.
"So it literally didn't blow a leaf out of my yard here.
"My first thought was how someone didn't get severely hurt was a miracle."