Warwick hero recounts horrors of Yasi’s devastation
A decade on from the devastation of Cyclone Yasi, Warwick SES controller John Newley said he could still remember the way the mood on the deployment bus shifted as the Warwick team entered a severely battered Innisfail.
"The closer we got to Innisfail the more devastation you saw," he said.
"You see all the banana and cane crops just absolutely flattened. Then you see all the destruction of all the buildings and trees. There's trees standing with not a leaf on them. Signs flattened to the ground, roofs ripped off homes.
"Everybody is quite jovial that first morning but the closer you got, the more devastation (you saw and) the quieter the bus got.
"Everybody was just glued to the window."
Wednesday will be the 10th anniversary of the Category Five cyclone, which tore through North Queensland and displaced more than 10,000 people from their homes.
Mr Newley, who at the time had just returned from dealing with Warwick, Goondiwindi and Toowoomba floods, was deployed with more than 30 other Southwest SES members to tarp roofs and remove trees and debris across the region.
On top of the physical exhaustion that came with working from 6am to 6pm, the crews were also presented head-on with the emotional turmoil the disaster caused victims.
"Whoever is left on the ground sort of act as a counsellor," Mr Newley said.
"We're letting people talk and tell their stories and I think that's nearly as important as putting the protection on their roof.
"You see lot of things, but you see how resilient the people are. They've been through it before, but it's still difficult to see roofs off houses and trees on houses.
"It really upsets the whole flow of life."
One heart-wrenching experience with a devastated elderly farmer still makes Mr Newley choke up to this day.
"There was one guy and all he wanted was a tarp. It was a little job and the guys probably only spent 20 minutes and they were done, but he was so emotional," an emotional Mr Newley said.
"He was trying to use a chainsaw and cut a tree up and he was in a pretty bad state.
"To think that's 10 years later."
Between his experience with both Yasi and its predecessor Larry, Mr Newley said a lot was learnt from the disaster.
"As the years roll on, emergency services are putting out the warnings much better now," he said.
"It has been good in that regard. People are listening to the warnings, both radio, TV and social media.
"I think as an organisation, we're doing things much much better now. We've learnt the lesson."
Mr Newley still encouraged residents to get these things ready, in the case of an emergency:
- An emergency kit (including first aid kits, battery-operated radio, torch, hand sanitiser, USB full of documents, document pouch, gloves, any medication needed)
- Good housekeeping: Look at what could become a missile and keep gutters clear
- Think about pets: Have an evacuation plan ready for your pets as rescue helicopters and boats often won't take on board pets