RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow greets Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow greets Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Battered but not beaten: Rocky rises to the challenge

I flew to Brisbane late on Wednesday evening ready for meetings with gas companies on Thursday and Friday.

Almost as soon as I landed I found myself requesting the first flight home on Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon the airport was closing and the local disaster committee had already convened its first meeting.

As Marcia messed around trying to decide if and when she would cross, we activated our Disaster Centre.

The centre was established in what was originally the 'Mayoresses Reception Room' on the ground floor of City Hall.

This windowless room with a bank of computers and dozens of phones was to be home to me more than any other place for the next two weeks.

Thursday evening I went home and collected a pillow and a blanket to make a makeshift bed in my office which I used off and on over the next couple of evenings.

Councillor Tony Williams is Chair of the Disaster Committee so he had primary responsibility in the lead up to Marcia unleashing her worst. The Local Disaster Coordination Centre was also set to become his base each day and at all hours of the night as we operated around the clock.

By Friday mid-morning when it became obvious the mountains were not going to protect us, I made the call that I would stay and 'lock down' with a handful of emergency service personnel in the Disaster Centre during the event rather than go home.

There is one advantage to being in the Disaster Centre - your finger is on the pulse. During the eye of the cyclone we ventured onto the veranda of City Hall and started to count the missing roofs. There were pieces of green sheeting lying on the road - I'm still not sure I know which building they came from. And so many branches.

I remember sending a quick Facebook message to remind people that there was more to come as we headed back downstairs.

City Hall rattled and I became vitally aware that there were big windows right at the very top of the stairwell.

And then, just as quickly, it was quiet again.

The phone rang and Eddie Cowie, the Local Controller of the Rockhampton Regional SES, told me his people had tried to get from Dean St to Charles St to open up and it had taken them 38 minutes, and 11 dead ends and blocked streets to get there.

Over the next few hours reports began to filter in, phones started ringing, council staff simply reported for work at their respective depots, at what would normally be knock-off time, and the clean-up began.

I rang Leigh in Stanwell, and others rang their rural contacts in our far-flung region.

Operators then began dispatching disaster personnel.

There were trees down, tangled power lines, damaged homes and buildings but, breath held for a moment or two, no lives were lost.

The next few days just rolled into one big blur. I chair the Recovery Committee, and the weight of that sits heavily.

I pushed and pushed and pushed, when I was told the drivers were tired - I asked who was ready to take the wheel while the first crew rested.

The scale of the debris, around 160,000m³ in all, demanded a superhuman effort from council staff and they rose to the challenge.

Our external staff tripled in size as contractors and staff from neighbouring councils swelled our ranks.

There were 900 men and women under council's control out in the field on some of the hottest Rockhampton days and an equally heroic team inside City Hall who arranged the logistics.

And what kept us all going was knowing we were part of a minor miracle - a sense that together as a community we were achieving something extraordinary. There will still be 'Memories of Marcia' lying in out of the way places for a few weeks to come, and our towns and communities are a little scarred, and perhaps the landscape will be brighter - less shade, more sun - but we came through. And we did it with courage and tenacity and dignity.

 



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