Look­ing back – 20 years

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS -

Two decades have passed since the big wet but for some the mem­o­ries are very fresh, writes Madi­son Wil­liams

Crocs on the loose, cows out at Low Isles and a pig nes­tled into a lux­ury lodge, such was the chaos of the 1996 floods that trau­ma­tised the Dain­tree and left many peo­ple out of home and out of pocket

On March 3, 1996 the heav­ens opened, let down an almighty down­pour and didn't stop for six days.

“It hap­pened al­most in­stantly. Just bang! One day it started to pour and then on the 8th, bang! It stopped just as sud­denly,” said lo­cal man Peter Ponzo.

Res­i­dents say it was like some­thing out of the bi­ble.

The heavy and un­re­lent­ing down­pour caused the wa­ters to rise fast; faster than they ever had be­fore, some peo­ple said.

Res­i­dents had been given lit­tle warn­ing and al­most no time to pre­pare.

In the midst of the del­uge of water Croc­o­dile Ex­press Dain- tree River Cruises owner Dean Clapp, with the help of his son, was re­leas­ing an­i­mals from his Dain­tree But­ter­fly Farm.

Birds, but­ter­flies, emus, kan­ga­roos and a pig were re­leased to pre­vent them from drown­ing in the rag­ing wa­ters.

Re­port­edly an eight-foot croc­o­dile also es­caped from its cage.

“Most of the an­i­mals were tame. We put them on the boat where they spent the ma­jor­ity of the time, ex­cept our pet pig, who ended up sleep­ing at the lux­ury eco lodge,” he said.

“We were ty­ing up the boats higher and higher and as it got later it be­came ob­vi­ous that we would have to aban­don the boats and go to higher ground at the Dain­tree Eco Lodge.

“After a while my son and I went out with a torch and re­alised the water had come up 10 me­tres.

“Some units of the lodge were un­der­wa­ter.

“One of the own­ers said, ‘I think there’s some­one in unit 13’.

“We went through the en­trance of the unit, walked through shoul­der height water, pushed the door open and I was sure I was go­ing to see bodies float­ing around.

“In­stead these peo­ple were float­ing around eat­ing Mars Bars.”

After the rains let up and the floods re­ceded Mr Clapp and his fam­ily were able to sur­vey the mess.

The fam­ily had suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing loss, their busi­nesses, the Big Croc Cafe and the Dain­tree But­ter­fly Farm, were de­stroyed. The Dain­tree But­ter­fly Farm never re­opened.

The only business still sal­vage­able was Croc­o­dile Ex­press.

“These days the business is do­ing re­ally well, it’s gone from strength to strength and it’s sur­vived the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, pi­lot strikes and a fire,” said Mr Clapp

When a business can sur­vive floods of near bi­b­li­cal pro­por­tion the GFC seems in­fin­i­tes­i­mal.

“There’s not much you can do when you get ex­treme rain­fall, it’s go­ing to go where it wants to go. You just have to learn to move on with life; I def­i­nitely wouldn’t want to go through it again though.”

Mr Clapp and his fam­ily weren’t the only ones to feel the wrath of the floods.

The area north of Moss­man was cut off by flood­wa­ters over Fox­ton Bridge, while the Dain- tree and Bloom­field ar­eas lost power.

Long-time shire res­i­dents de­scribed the flood­ing as some of the worst to ever hit the shire. There were re­ports that the Dain­tree River was up to four kilo­me­tres wide in some parts.

Fam­i­lies were evac­u­ated from homes and fran­tic ef­forts were made to get es­sen­tial food sup­plies to needy res­i­dents in the north­ern part of the shire. The tourist in­dus­try was brought al­most to a com­plete halt.

But Mr Clapp said the com­mu­nity came to­gether in the af­ter­math of the floods.

“When the day­light came around ev­ery­one went out on their boats to res­cue peo­ple,” he said.

“We had to ma­noeu­vre our way through trees and de­bris, we didn’t know if the pow­er­lines were still live.

“It was quite sur­real go­ing un­der­neath pow­er­lines on your boat, re­ally quite amaz­ing.”

And 20 years after such a har­row­ing or­deal Mr Clapp still says the same thing now as he did back then.

“At the end of the day no one was killed, so it was no big deal.”

Dain­tree Vil­lage in the ‘96 floods

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.