Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cairns, part two

Sorry, just realized this is very long, you may want to grab a coffee!

So when I left off, we were waiting for a bus, and we finally got dropped off at Stockland Mall, the evacuation center.  Our driver commented that he hoped we would get to watch movies the whole time, but once we got in there, we realized that would not be an option; there were far to many people for that.  Andrew and I wandered around, looking for a good spot.  We found one, but promptly had to move as it was in the line with a whole bunch of glass windows.  No wonder no one was sitting there!  After some more wandering, we were lucky enough to find a spot along a wall, squeezed in between two sleeping Dutchmen (from Gelderland even, we later discovered).  They slept a lot, I don't know how, but pretty much one of them was sleeping at all times.  They eventually moved to sit together.  A second row of people was formed in the middle of the aisle, filling the place right up.  We at least could lean on the wall, which gave a lot more options.  We laid out our towels and tried to get settled.
at the mall, our little space under EB Games

People wait in the evacuation centre at Stockland shopping centre in Cairns ahead of Cyclone Yasi
from http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/02/3127485.htm
very full
A young family moved in beside us.  They had two small kids and gave us change for the phone - thanks!  They really did a good job keeping their kids calm and happy, they were so well behaved.  We probably got more bored then them.  The little boy made some friends nearby and it was so cute to hear him call them his mates!

At first, we just sat there and chatted a bit, I think because we didn't want to waste any of our fun activities (ipods, cards, journaling) so early on.  I had a good chat with the mom next to us, she was really a sweetie.  We were near a whole bunch of other backpackers from a variety of hostels, so we also talked to some Canadians from Sarnia, and Andrew got to talk hockey for the first time in months (yay cyclone!).  

We really had a good time getting to know Holly, Patrick and Katie, who were staying at the same hostel as us.  They were all from Britain and were on the end of their trip, and actually just missed flying out that same day.  Really too bad for them, but nice for us I guess.  We played cards and just talked a lot.  Thanks guys for making the cyclone fun(ner)!

Throughout this time, the Red Cross had arrived, and I really want to give them a big shout out.  They brought food and water, sheets,and just kept everything organized.  It was just nice to know that someone was looking after us, especially after being frustrated with our hostel a bit.  Andrew and I had food, but did eventually get a package of Australian Army rations.  Yum, yum.  These were kind of hilarious, someone said they felt like they were eating astronaut food, as everything was small, tightly wrapped and had probably been in there for two years.  However there were chocolate bars so that was a plus!  We have the info sheet to prove it.

Andrew and I relaxed on our towels and tried to pretend we were at the beach. If we didn't look at the floor, it worked okay.  About every hour, the Red Cross would make announcements, updating us on the cyclone's progress.  It was a category five and headed straight for Cairns, and pictures of the storm showed it about the size of a quarter of Australia - massive.  We honestly felt pretty safe at the mall, and had tried to make sure we brought all of our most important things along.  We did not have a lot to lose, compared to people who were thinking about their house, their families, their businesses, like the family next to us.  I just felt terrible, knowing they would leave tomorrow expecting the worst, as the news announcements were saying that there was a severe risk to life and property.  In the early evening, the cyclone dodged south a bit, but then came back.  A few hours later it was reported more southerly again. 
The day moved on, and eventually it was time to get ready for bed.  Hmm, how exactly do you settle in on a towel?  Andrew actually fell asleep fairly easily, but I stayed awake and tried to reassure the mom beside me.  We had a nice chocolate snack around 1, and got a little goofy, and I think that's what we needed to finally fall asleep.  Nothing like army chocolate to satisfy a craving!  We also had a free breakfast to look forward to, which was pretty exciting.

our place for a day and night
Waking up in the morning, we found out that the worst of the cyclone had hit about 80km south, in the Tully area.  There was no damage in the mall, other than being really hot and smelly (the power and a/c had gone off around midnight), but we definitely heard the winds over night.  Thanks to everyone for praying for us!  We enjoyed our free fruit and cereal and then were told it was safe to go outside and to  please pack up and get going.  Umm okay, where to and how?  This is the part where things got very frustrating.  We waited, with our friends to see if the hostel was sending a bus over, and eventually found out they weren't.  Okay thanks a lot!  There were not many options then, it was pouring, and no public transport or taxis were running.  After getting the run around from the police, and spending a lot of time trying to get some answers, and a small cry fest (Ger) with my new friend at the bus stop, we finally decided to just walk.  There were families with young kids, people who had brought a bunch of stuff to the evacuation center (some travellers, some just over packers, I think) and it was really a mess.  We asked if the police could help drive people home, but they said there were four of them and four seats in the police car, so apparently not.  People had been coming by to give rides, but there were still a lot of people there.  However, a few steps out of the parking lot, someone stopped to offer a ride, and we gratefully accepted.  We were with a group of about 5 by then.  We were so thankful as it was pouring, and our hostel was 7km(?) away.  Thank you David from Cairns, you inspire us to be nicer and more caring people!  Being a traveler in a disaster really reminds you how dependent you can be, when you have no vehicle, no big food stock, and no idea what is going on.  It was also frustrating to hear that the few taxi drivers out there had told the people who were picking up us hitchhikers that they would report them as they did not have the appropriate license.  Come on, honestly.

Arriving at the hostel, we were very tempted to give the one lone staff member a piece of our mind about letting the hostel vehicle be out of gas, but tried to restrain our selves a bit.  There was no power or hot water at the hostel, so I had a nice spooky cold shower in the VERY DARK bathroom.  Psycho, anyone?  We talked to our parents, and the power eventually came back on, so we went for a nap in our air conditioned (yay!) room and recovered a bit.  In discussing with our friends, we decided we just wanted to get out of there, as the forecast was all thundershowers and it was pouring cats and dogs, so we were a bit worried about flooding etc.  

So early Friday morning we headed to the airport and managed to squeeze ourselves onto a flight later that day, without having to pay anything extra.  Thank you Virgin Blue!  We were so amazed we could get a flight, as ours had not been cancelled, we just wanted to leave early.

We headed back into the city, and browsed around town a bit, in between spurts of pouring rain.  Cairns seemed like it would have been a lot of fun in good weather, with a nice esplanade pool area, and being near the rainforest.  The worst of the damage had missed the city, but there were still many trees down and it was a bit of a mess.  The towns more southward had received quite a bit of damage, with houses being torn apart, yachts piled up on the shore, and one of the highways was impassable.  Schools were closed for about two weeks, and the army was sent in to do a lot of the clean up.

some damage in downtown Cairns
In case you missed it, this website has a lot of information and pictures from the cyclone.  Anyways, lessons learned: check the weather very, very carefully before you go places, you can change flights without too much hassle, and help each other out, it really makes a difference.


Rita said...

It is so nice to know it wasn't nearly as stressful as we dreaded from the other side of the globe. It was a long night for us too.... not to be forgotten for quite a while, I expect.

Andrew & Geralis said...

I'm sure. I think in a way it's easier being the one involved because at least then you know what's going on.