PERSONAL IMPACT: Minister Bill Byrne with Teys Bros meatworks boss Wasantha Mudannayake. Allan Reinikka
PERSONAL IMPACT: Minister Bill Byrne with Teys Bros meatworks boss Wasantha Mudannayake. Allan Reinikka

Texts from behind the scenes as Cyclone Marcia strikes

I returned to Rockhampton on one of the last flights prior to the airport's closure.

Earlier that morning the Premier had asked that I keep her informed about all developments and issues as they arose.

As Tropical Cyclone Marcia approached, I touched base with local government authorities and key counter disaster officials.

After that, my focus shifted from being a minister to the well-being of my own family.

The family gathered at home while I checked our cyclone preparation.

I always prepare for each storm season and make sure we have fuel, water, food not requiring refrigeration, gas, batteries, torches, chainsaw, and other essentials. For once, those yearly preparations proved necessary.

I am glad that I made it home because, as a family, we were able to support each other during the event and in the aftermath - as only families can.

Here is an extract from text messages between myself and State Police and Emergency Services Minister Jo-Ann Miller as the storm arrived:

JM: How is it going?

BB: Getting smashed.

JM: Hell mate be safe.

BB: There are lots of trees down. I live on a slight hill. Wind has been incredible. There will be lots of damage. Worst hasn't arrived yet.

JM: OK, I've told AP (Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk). Can you please update us when you can?

BB: Power's down, hopefully mobile network survives. Will let you know when worst passes.

Later, JM: OK eye is passing over at present. We have reports of waves on Fitzroy River and roof damage to houses.

BB: Not surprised, it's incredible to see thousands of seabirds soaring in eye of cyclone. Never seen away from open ocean usually.

Later, BB: Mayor tells me many homes damaged. Hundreds of calls for assistance.

JM: Yes, SES has over 3000 calls already.

When the winds subsided, the full extent of the considerable damage was revealed across our battered region. There was massive relief that no one had been killed, tempered by the realisation that for some, homes and livelihoods had been severely impacted.

My own house was relatively unscathed, although it was impossible to see it from the road because it was hidden by felled trees on the footpath.

On Sunday afternoon, after spending much of my spare time on a chainsaw, I had to fly to Brisbane for my first Cabinet meeting. It was also my duty to brief my Cabinet colleagues about the scale of destruction and about the incredible community spirit that had already begun to make a difference to those who were worst affected.

Immediately after the Cabinet meeting I returned to Rockhampton to do what I could to help with the massive recovery operation.

In the days and weeks after the cyclone, the Rockhampton Electorate Office received hundreds of phone calls from citizens desperately seeking assistance.

I am pleased to say that many of the calls received by my staff and I have been extremely complimentary about the response from Ergon to restore power, about the unstinting efforts of the SES and other emergency workers and about the way neighbours have helped one another through the crisis.

As the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Sport and Racing, and as the Member for Rockhampton, the consequences of that day will continue to keep me busy for a long time to come.

There is an emotional toll.

It was heartbreaking to visit businesses that will take months to recover from the damage and to talk to farmers who had lost their crops and seen the work of a lifetime and generations ruined by a tempest that lasted no more than a few hours.

Recovery will take time, it will take co-operation by all levels of government and it will require investment and understanding.

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