Cyclone watch! Cyclone warning! These haven’t been very common phrases in our last two and half years in the Northern Territory. While Jason would love to experience going through a cyclone, I am not quite so enthusiastic about the idea. So last week as ex-Tropical Cyclone Gillian floated around the Gulf of Carpentaria, we needed to get ready and make some plans. At the same time the Bureau of Meterology issued map after map, after map, of where the cyclone was likely to travel. Their predicted path for a long while focused on Nhulunbuy (where MAF Arnhem Land has its base and engineering facilities) and then later Elcho Island (our home).
As MAF management huddled together to make plans for the safety of staff and aircraft, those of us in communities started to put our cyclone plans into action. It was a little ironic that the previous weekend we had a staff training weekend about managing dangerous situations, and just a week later some of that knowledge was being put into practice. For those of us in communities, cyclone planning has two parts… what to do if we stay here at home OR what to take it we need to evacuate to Gove.
So while we waited to see if evacuation would be needed, I got to work. It is easier to do things rather than sit and wonder what will be. Jason was busy flying people here for the church thanksgiving weekend. And after last year’s quick pack and departure to attend Jason’s Pa’s funeral, I now have a packing list. So I know I don’t need to think about what to put in the bag, if an evacuation was required, because I just follow the list! The important documents are always kept in a plastic pocket now, so I got that out of its drawer.
My first thought was how would we cope if we lost power for a few days. Friends of ours who weathered a cyclone in QLD went for ten days without power, so with that thought in my mind I started planning. I don’t think our power would ever stay out that long here though, as Galiwinku is powered by generators. Our fridge and freezer are nicely stocked for the next three months, so a little reorganisation was needed. If the power stayed out for too long we would have one great bbq with lots of meat to eat!
Water was the next challenge, as here when the power goes out so does the water. Fill up all those juice bottles, drink bottles and jerry cans. 10 litres per person should last each person for three days. Food, what will we eat and how will we cook it? I decided to do a big cook up of spaghetti bolognaise, easy to reheat on our gas stove and great to take with us if we need to evacuate to Gove. Perhaps, it would be useful for a meal with a Gove family who may need to accommodate us for a few days.
Back up the computer was the next plan, so we can take the usb with us. Wow! How long it is since we did that last! Naughty Job family! Questions circulated in my head… what will we do with the car? What will we do with Dora if we evacuate? Do dogs come too?
As it all turned out, each MAF community family was given a choice whether they wanted to stay in their homes or evacuate to town. We chose to stay here as we felt the cyclone was only going to be a smallish one if the predictions were correct and we felt that we were better prepared to survive here than we would be in town. All of the other community families made the same decision.
MAF management decided to bring all of the planes into town for safety and the town staff performed a complex jigsaw puzzle to fit 9 planes into the MAF hangar. While the weather was a little windy, there was little indication that a cyclone was anywhere nearby. The skies were clear and blue. So nice in fact that Jason and Sam went fishing for most of Saturday morning. As the weekend went by, the BOM (Bureau of Meterology) continued to change their forecast maps until they were pretty sure that the cyclone would miss us altogether. In the end we did get some showers, and even some decent thunder and lightning a few times, but that was all.
The cyclone went on its merry way, further north and west, missing us. But all that planning, isn’t wasted. Next time we won’t have to think so much about supplies and planning. And a backed up computer is always a good thing isn’t it?