100 DAYS SINCE DEBBIE
The stories of those that copped brunt of Debbie
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.