Here, Summer, 34, tells the story in her own words.
￼The warnings were all over the news. Living in Airlie Beach we’d experienced cyclones before, but this was going to be a big one.
It was March this year and Cyclone Debbie was set to be the most dangerous storm to hit Queensland in years. As our house is deep in the rainforest at the end of a long dirt track, we needed to be prepared.
My partner, Mike, 44, and I tied down the furniture in the garden and we stocked up on food and bottled water for our kids, Mia, nine, Ruby, seven, and Sonny, three. I’d been due to take my friend Belinda and her three girls, Talika, 13, Kiarah, 11, and Taylor, nine, to the airport after a holiday, but all flights were cancelled.
‘Looks like we’re staying with you then!’ Belinda laughed. So the nine of us settled in to wait it out. With the storm raging, it was only a couple of hours before we lost power. We didn’t have a generator so it meant no lights, fridge or wifi.
Our water tanks rely on electric pumps too, so we couldn’t shower and had to ration our supplies. Using candles and gas lamps, the kids passed the time playing games. Every now and again they’d race to the front door.
‘Oh my God!’ they’d say, hearing the trees snapping in the bush.
The next day, the cyclone got worse. Roaring 260kph winds ripped the roof off our verandah and the shed collapsed. Suddenly there was a huge smash as a branch crashed through the glass in the front door. I just hope no-one gets injured, I fretted. We’re a 10-minute drive from town and our closest neighbours are a 3km walk away.
As the phone lines had gone down, we didn’t have any way to communicate with family, but we did have a radio. Turning on the news, reporters made it sound like the end of the world.Trapped in our house, we had no way of knowing.
On the third day there was a huge electrical storm with deafening thunder and lightning bolts flashing across the sky. ‘It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,’ I said to Mike, as it thrashed on through the night. Poor Ruby and Sonny were terrified and snuggled into our bed.
By day four, the weather had finally calmed down enough for us to venture outside.‘Look at it,’ I gasped, surveying the damage. Our garden was destroyed and the dirt track to our home was completely blocked with fallen trees.
We were stuck in the bush – and our supplies were running lowWhen it rained, the kids collected water in bottles.Then, our neighbour Phil surprised us with a generator so we could have cold showers. What we really wanted was a hot bath though, so we made a fire under the cast iron one outside.
Climbing in with Sonny, I suddenly heard something above. A helicopter! I gulped, grabbing Sonny to protect my modesty. Sinking deeper, I could see them waving in hysterics. How embarrassing! I thought, sheepishly waving back at them.
The next day we were outside again when we heard a State Emergency Service digger in the distance.‘We’re being saved!’ I said, as the kids cheered.They were so excited until suddenly it went silent. ‘They’ll be back,’ I reassured them.
When the noise started up again the following morning, we all ran outside to investigate.This time, we could see a digger coming up the drive.Our dog Elkie raced out in front. Mia was carrying a nudie Sonny on her back and Ruby’s hair was all knotty from not being washed. I’m a photographer, so I captured the moment. So grateful to see help arrive, we high-fived our rescuers.
Afterwards, we jumped in the car and headed into town for supplies. Back home, I posted the photos I’d taken on Facebook.‘Wow, that’s an amazing shot,’ Mike said, about the moment we were rescued. It got many comments too.This hit home for me, someone said.I was touched. It was an emotional moment after being stranded and it really did tell our story.
Soon after, a friend tagged me in a competition. The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience were holding an awards ceremony to recognise and celebrate life-saving initiatives. One of the categories was for photography so I entered the picture of my kids.
We were completely cut off from the outside world, I put on my application. No ability to even contact loved ones to let them know we were safe. After three scary days, SES crew cut their way up the road and managed to cut a clear path down to our house.
This photo is of my children glimpsing the first sight of help after a traumatic experience. I couldn’t believe it when I won last week!
Eight months on, most of the trees have been cleared. It will take a long time before everything is back to normal. The important thing is my family is safe.
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