BLOWN OVER: Uprooted trees strewn across the roads didn’t stop traffic flowing as drivers weaved around the obstacles. Renee Foulstone
BLOWN OVER: Uprooted trees strewn across the roads didn’t stop traffic flowing as drivers weaved around the obstacles. Renee Foulstone

Now *that* was a storm

THEY stood under a shop awning in Bolsover St looking at me with confusion and a hint of growing alarm in their expressions.

It was 9.40am on Friday, February 20, and Cyclone Marcia was bearing down on Rockhampton.

The streets were almost empty as the wind and rain began to intensify.

Most shops and businesses had not opened at all, including Bolsover Radiology where I was now standing with a man and a woman.

"Why aren't they open?" the woman said to me with an incredulous look.

"No one is open," I said.

"Cyclone Marcia is about to hit us and everyone is taking shelter. You need to find shelter too. Now."

"What about my appointment?

"Forget it. Ring them when this is over."

I offered to drive them to wherever they could find shelter. They lived in Lakes Creek but asked if I could take them to an address near Rockhampton High School.

She was an avid Bully reader but had not had time to check it that morning and had missed the "Marcia turns into a monster" page one headline.

I dropped them off in pouring rain and headed for home across the Neville Hewitt Bridge.

I had left The Bully building in the hands of news director Adam Wratten and a handful of intrepid reporters, a photographer and a designer who had made it to work.

I had sent directive out to all staff at 7.30am advising them not to come to work due to the severe cyclone danger we were facing.

They ignored me.

LEFT: Kids in Berserker play in the water left by Cyclone Marcia. Lisa Benoit
LEFT: Kids in Berserker play in the water left by Cyclone Marcia. Lisa Benoit

The phone rang and my daughter asked, "Where are you, Dad?"

As I drove away I noticed The Two Professors still serving coffee.

I stopped in Bolsover St to take a picture of a car parked under an awning on the footpath when I spotted the pair outside the radiology office.

After dropping them off, I drove down Yamba Rd, noting a surprising amount of traffic still on the highway.

The police scanner beside me blared out an instruction for all officers to seek safe shelter now.

I took a few photos and videos on my way home near CQUniversity. The only businesses I saw open were three service stations.

Then I was home.

My family was moving household items from the front bedrooms, which would cop the first blast of the cyclone.

The big discussion was where we would take cover.

I thought the shoe closet under the stairs.

We ended up in the laundry.

BELOW: Near the entrance to CQUniversity just after the cyclone. Frazer Pearce
BELOW: Near the entrance to CQUniversity just after the cyclone. Frazer Pearce

Bad planning and the Caltex had just shut.

The wind was really picking up now.

I was watching the cyclone path and category on my laptop via iPhone hotspot.

It seemed to be on a beeline to fly over our house.

Inside I was churning.

My family might perish as our house fell apart and my staff were working in an extreme situation without me.

Then a young man appeared across the road, taking cover under a carport.

My wife ran out to offer him shelter at our house but he waved us away, saying a lift was on the way.

Then, incredibly, a taxi arrived and picked him up. That driver is a hero, I thought.

At 10.50am a text message advised the sailing club at Yeppoon had lost its roof.

Not long after, part of the air-conditioning unit on a building across the road blew away.

The wind and rain were hitting us hard now and visibility was down to 100m.

Water streamed through the upstairs bedroom windows facing into the storm.

The phone rang.

It was my mum asking if everyone was okay.

I love mums.

ABOVE: Editor Frazer Pearce on Carlton St as the cyclone passes.
ABOVE: Editor Frazer Pearce on Carlton St as the cyclone passes.

The power went out.

We kept on soaking up the water, then the garden shed roof blew off and its walls collapsed.

This was getting serious.

I took a video of the garden shed and retreated.

At 1.09pm the wind stopped.

The eye was passing over.

I felt enormous relief the worst had passed. No one was hurt and a quick look around the house showed relatively minor damage on the scale of what could have happened.

As I ventured outside into the calm and looked down the street, I saw tree and vegetation debris everywhere.

Two large gum trees lay across Carlton St and other trees in yards were uprooted, falling into houses, but I couldn't see any severely damaged.

I took two 30-second videos and emailed them to an APN producer and they were up on our website in minutes while the eye was still passing over.

Regrettably I forgot to turn off the video in one shot and the final frames show my feet as I walked up the street.

A young couple stood outside their house, clearly relieved they too had escaped with minor structural and water damage.

I think it took about 40 minutes for the wind to pick up again as we rode out the rest of the storm.

By then, reports of the breadth of destruction were coming in and at about 4pm I drove to work, leaving my poor family to continue cleaning up and without power.

I managed to weave around debris on the Bruce Hwy but remarkably the thin traffic was flowing somewhat smoothly, despite the many obstacles thrown down by Marcia, including no traffic lights thanks to an almost total power failure across the district.

At work the staff had done a fantastic job, getting out on the ground, gathering stories and updating the website with rolling coverage of the unfolding cyclone drama.

The deadline was brought forward to 8.30pm from 10pm, which presented us with a hectic finish to what had already been a challenging day on many fronts.

Incredibly, our office was among the 3% of the region to retain power.

And, also incredibly, at 11.55pm that night my paper hit the lawn thanks to the amazing efforts of my editorial team and the print crew, who managed to print our papers with a generator while the delivery team managed to deliver most papers, despite the enormous challenges presented by fallen trees and road damage.

An incredible week of survival, recovery and mateship had just begun for more than 100,000 of us.



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