PREPARING for and dealing with the aftermath of TC Marcia has been one of the most challenging experiences in my public life.
What started out as a fairly routine preparation for a potential category 1 cyclone on Wednesday, February 18, ramped up over the next 48 hours to one of the most destructive natural disasters that the region has faced.
When we look back on how well our community dealt with this event, the key factor was the way we supported each other, exercised a high degree of common sense and were as well prepared as possible given the circumstances of a rapidly changing event.
From a council perspective I believe our team responded pro-actively and focussed on working together collaboratively in a well-coordinated effort with all levels of government and support agencies.
The primary mission was keeping those most at risk safe and then to get assistance where it was most needed quickly and effectively.
As chairman of the Local Disaster Management Group, the most challenging time came at 1am when the call had to be made for a precautionary mass evacuation of more than 2500 people from low-lying storm-tide zones.
With the threat of a 2.4m to 3m storm-tide on top of the highest tides of the year and the potential for escape routes being cut off by flash-flooding, the decision was made for police and SES to mobilise and alert sleeping residents in at-risk areas.
By 3.30am people began streaming into the cyclone shelter and evacuation centres or seeking refuge with friends and families in more secure locations.
In all, more than 1200 people were safely registered at the three evacuation centres (Yeppoon State High, St Brendan's and Emu Park Primary School) prior to the cyclone hitting.
Although the damage from the cyclone was extreme in many areas, and especially in Byfield, it could have been totally catastrophic had the cyclone not crossed the coast where it did and approached the more populated areas of the Capricorn Coast from the sea, bringing with it the predicted lethal 2.4m to 3m storm surge.
Special recognition will always go to the community champions who were the first on the ground, giving assistance from opening up blocked rural roads to helping neighbours.
No community could have asked for more from their council workforce and senior management team, SES and Rural Fire Brigades, including hundreds of volunteers from other areas and our Australian Defence Force reservists and regulars.
With Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and their respective deputies Warren Truss and Jackie Trad viewing first-hand the devastating impacts, we are hopeful our economic rebuilding plans will have their financial support so our region can come back stronger and better than ever.
As we rise to the huge task of rebuilding our lives, businesses and economy, the most important thing will be to continue to pull together and keep that community spirit going to meet the many challenges we will face in the months and years ahead.