ON THE GROUND: Bob Pleash from Ergon Energy at the site in Byfield where they set up a
ON THE GROUND: Bob Pleash from Ergon Energy at the site in Byfield where they set up a "Pegasus" generator to supply power to most residents in the area until normal infrastructure was restored. Chris Ison

Power workers pick up the pieces after Cyclone Marcia

Like all Rockhampton and Capricorn Coast residents, I faced the morning of Friday, February 20, with trepidation and concern as Tropical Cyclone Marcia prepared to unleash her fury on our region.

That concern would be elevated over the coming hours after Marcia made landfall and began her destructive path.

Over a sustained (what seemed like an eternity) period of the next two to three hours the initial strong but tolerable winds quickly gave rise to cyclonic gales of worrying proportions.

Trees in the parkland behind us began to yield from the unrelenting wind and came crashing down with branches and debris being thrown though the air as projectiles.

After loosing power around mid-morning, the gravity of the situation became even more realistic with the cyclone's continuous, raging noise akin to a jet engine ever present.

I recall thinking as we were racing around the place resecuring things, standing against the large front timber doors to stop them blowing in and placing towels near windows that were unable to cope with the force of horizontally driven rain, if this is Category 3, I don't want to see it any stronger, or words to that effect.

For about half an hour around lunchtime, everything went eerily quiet when the cyclone's eye passed directly over Rockhampton. The birds even started twittering, probably as they were getting acquainted with their new geographical address, albeit short-term.

The wind then stated coming from the other direction, but thankfully this time not as severe and damaging.

A quick assessment of our property after the cyclone passed revealed that our house had fared very well with only some minor guttering damage compliments of a wayward palm frond. We were very lucky and I empathise with those who suffered more serious loss and damage and continue to rebuild after this devastating event.

The fact that the cyclone hit during daylight hours and people saw first-hand the damage and thankfully lived through the destruction that Marcia imparted, helped mould the community spirit that would come to the fore in the coming days and weeks.

We were all in this together and we were all here to tell the tale. The very real potential for serious injury or worse was there.

With power likely to be out for some time, attention turned to sustaining ourselves over the coming days. In times of adversity we adapt and make the best of a bad situation. Gaslights, barbecue, torches etc were all put into service and thanks to a good mate, shared generation between houses to power refrigeration.

In our "hood" we got though this by working together as I am sure other neighbourhoods did.

Communal cyclone food gatherings were the order of the day and I recall one such evening meal of rissoles on the barbie with a special, crunchy garnish thanks to an infestation of grass hoppers that decided to join us for dinner.

This brings me to a concept we have heard a lot about during the cyclone recovery - Random Acts of Kindness.

The Gladstone-based brother of a great friend who had been part of our post cyclone survival gatherings arrived on our doorstep with a bootload of provisions of us all to share with the words, "You blokes got hit harder than we did".

I had never met the bloke in my life before and to use cyclone parlance, I was literally blown away. What a lovely gesture.

Marcia's legacy from an Ergon perspective and something that would keep me gainfully employed for the coming period of time, saw power lost to 97% of the Rockhampton region and 100% of the Capricorn Coast with around 65,000 customers affected.

More than 2000 power lines were brought down by trees and debris and supply to Ergon's primary zone substations knocked out.

Original estimates based on previous cyclone experience, warned the community that power could be out for up to two weeks.

We had to start at the start and end at the end.

After initial scoping and assessment and making safe, the key priority was to get Ergon's high voltage sub transmission network restored so that supply could be progressively returned to suburban feeders. With this achieved over the weekend, priority was then given to reinstating supply to sewerage and water pumping, hospitals and supermarkets.

The restoration exercise that ensued ultimately saw up to 1000 field staff on the ground from Ergon across regional Queensland, Energex in the south- east and contractors operating from staging posts set up at Western St Army Barracks in Rockhampton and the Mercure Resort grounds in Yeppoon.

By mid-week there was light at the end of the tunnel with Ergon reaching the halfway mark of its restoration plan and by the Friday - a week after the cyclone - power was restored to the major urban areas across Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast.

As Ergon reached the final hurdle, the focus then turned to reinstating power to the remote rural fringes.

Power was restored to all affected customers where it was safe to do so, either by network or by generation support, by Monday, March 2 - a day ahead of schedule and an absolute credit to the many field response workers and the small army of Ergon support staff behind the scenes.

The reception and reaction from the community as crews worked throughout the area progressively restoring power was truly outstanding.

Sincere thanks to the Rockhampton and Capricorn Coast media for their excellent support and coverage and ensuring the community was kept informed about Ergon's restoration effort.

 



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