The sto­ries of those that copped brunt of Debbie

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - Emma Reynolds & Peter Car­ruthers

FRED Quod was walk­ing out of his bath­room when a piece of his neigh­bour’s tin roof tore open the back of his house, al­most sev­er­ing his arm and send­ing him smash­ing through the shower door.

Wife Peta Smail heard the bang and daugh­ter Te­gan’s screams, prised open the hall­way door that was glued shut by the rag­ing wind, and found Fred ly­ing curled up, cov­ered in de­bris and glass.

“I didn’t know if he was alive,” she told News Corp.

“There was blood ev­ery­where, de­bris ev­ery­where, his head and shoul­ders through the shower re­cess, he was curled up on the floor with de­bris on him.”

But Peta, 52, said the fam­ily were pre­pared for the hell that was Cy­clone Debbie.

“What we were not pre­pared for is post-Cy­clone Debbie,” she said.

On March 28, just af­ter the storm had made land­fall in Air­lie Beach, she had no time to think about the fu­ture.

She lifted the roof off Fred with Te­gan, 29, who had cuts and bruises from where her bed had flown across her room and pinned her to the wall.

For three hours, they stayed on the phone to emer­gency ser­vices, pack­ing pil­lows and tow­els around Fred that were soon soaked with blood.

It was when her son rang from Glad­stone that Peta cracked.

“He said, ‘how are you go­ing?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry to say Chris, it’s not good,’ and I heard my voice break. He said, ‘Mum, you’re the strong­est woman I know, you can do this’.”

“I said, I’m go­ing to get the truck, we’ll drag him in and I’ll drive (to the hos­pi­tal) my­self.’ My voice was start­ing to get loud ... I got out­side and saw the blue and red lights com­ing around the cor­ner. I was so re­lieved.”

Their saviour was Proser­pine Am­bu­lance Sta­tion’s of­fi­cer-in-charge Gavin Cousens, who had been wait­ing help­lessly for his mo­ment to go to the fam­ily, won­der­ing whether he would be go­ing around “pick­ing up dead bod­ies, ba­bies’ bod­ies” when the cy­clone had fin­ished wreak­ing havoc.

“When I took the phone call, I was look­ing out of the glass door and the roof was blow­ing off and the walls dis­in­te­grat­ing on the house op­po­site,” Mr Cousens said.

When they reached Fred, who has a pace­maker, he was in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion, with a punc­tured lung, se­vere cuts and 10 bro­ken ribs.

The next morn­ing, he was flown to a big­ger hos­pi­tal in Townsville. He re­mem­bers vir­tu­ally noth­ing.

Peta and Te­gan trailed home from the lo­cal hos­pi­tal around 8.30pm, soaked in blood.

“The place was in dark­ness, ev­ery win­dow smashed ex­cept three,” Peta said. “There was flood­wa­ter through the house. In hos­pi­tal we were calm, the next thing, we’re back in a cy­clone.”

Fred may never fully re­cover the use of his arm and his short-term mem­ory has been af­fected.

In the days and weeks im­me­di­ately af­ter the cy­clone, it looked as though a bush­fire had ripped through the idyl­lic Whit­sun­day re­gion.

But it has now been 100 days since Cy­clone Debbie and Air­lie Beach is start­ing to re­cover.

The build­ing in­dus­try is one of the win­ners, with vis­it­ing tradies fill­ing ho­tels and car­a­van parks.

Many lo­cals are still suf­fer­ing how­ever.

One of those peo­ple is Jess Hous­ton, 32, who spent the cy­clone cow­er­ing at her mother’s house as the fam­ily lis­tened to “ev­ery­thing break­ing” in howl­ing winds of up to 263km/h.

They heard the roof lift­ing off and watched frozen steaks fly across the room as the freezer door was torn open.

“I was pet­ri­fied,” she said. “I don’t think any of us spoke for six hours.”

But it was when she re­turned home that she dis­cov­ered the worst.

“We had to cut our way in, our house was un­der water, walls pushed in, ev­ery­thing gone,” she said through tears.

“For the first cou­ple of weeks, I cried my­self to sleep ev­ery night. I still can’t sleep ... They’re your be­long­ings, they make you feel who you are.”

This week, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and dis­as­ter con­sul­tant Dr Rob Gor­don brought to the Whit­sun­days an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of

our house was un­der­wa­ter, walls pushed in, ev­ery­thing gone. — Jess Hous­ton

how nat­u­ral dis­as­ters can af­fect the qual­ity of vic­tims’ lives.

He has coun­selled the peo­ple af­fected by the Ash Wed­nes­day bush­fires in Vic­to­ria, the Christchurch earth­quakes and vic­tims of Cy­clone Ului and Yasi.

Though he said he had not yet been ap­proached by peo­ple suf­fer­ing as a di­rect re­sult of their ex­pe­ri­ence in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the cy­clone, he made clear there was a need for a much broader sup­port other than trauma coun­selling.

“How peo­ple come out of a dis­as­ter de­pends on what hap­pens dur­ing this long, pro­tracted re­cov­ery,” he said.

“The grind­ing prob­lems of deal­ing with in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and fi­nances... that is re­ally what I am here to talk about.

“We can’t avoid the day but we can re­duce the im­pact of this chronic stress pe­riod now.”

Dr Gor­don es­ti­mated 10-20% of peo­ple im­pacted by Cy­clone Debbie would de­velop post trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

“It is very im­por­tant that those peo­ple get picked up and cared for,” he said.

“There will be a larger group who don’t get the full spec­trum but get the hee-bee-gee-bees when the winds blows.”

Un­der­pin­ning the clin­i­cal di­ag­no­sis and ir­ra­tional fear is gen­eral stress and dis­rup­tion to peo­ple’s lives.

“Peo­ple lose the re­ward­ing qual­i­ties of their life be­cause they don’t have the time or the en­ergy to en­gage in recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties,” Dr Gor­don said.

Rev­erend of the Unit­ing Church in Proser­pine, Jenny Pot­ter, was at Dr Gor­don’s Proser­pine ses­sion on Mon­day and said peo­ple’s re­silience had been chal­lenged by Cy­clone Debbie.

“(We are learn­ing about) how to re­as­sure peo­ple and to un­der­stand this is part of a phys­i­o­log­i­cal dis­or­der, it’s not all in your head,” she said.


Dis­as­ter re­cov­ery spe­cial­ist Dr Rob Gor­don speaks at a com­mu­nity re­cov­ery ses­sion.

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