Thursday, March 3, 2011

The aftermath . . . (& PTSD)

My last blog on Post Traumatic Stress was closely followed by Tropical Cyclone Yasi (category 5), that hit an area from Cairns to just south of Townsville.

The most badly damaged areas are Tully, Mission Beach, Cardwell, Tully Heads and Hull Heads. These places either need a complete rebuild or a rethink of the positioning of the houses and roads so close to the shore. To give you an idea of where I am in relation to these places, it’s just a 40 min drive to Tully from here and and hour to Cardwell.

It’s been such an emotional couple of weeks. I wrote about the PTSD when I did because I had concerns about the flood survivors, but it seems that something was learned from Cyclone Larry in 2006.  People in the right places have realised that homes can be rebuilt and communities can be cleaned up, but once it’s all over, the residents may become depressed, or anxious or develop a fear of heavy rain or wind.

Watching all the reports on the news shows about TC Yasi and the aftermath, there has been a lot of talk about mental health as well as physical needs of the people who experienced this trauma.

My partner Bruce made the decision to leave Innisfail for this cyclone. I wanted to stay . . . desperately. I have no idea why, I just wanted to be here. I couldn’t talk my dad into leaving with us, so I was worried about him in part, but I really wanted to stay. 

Bruce insisted and I wasn’t going to let him go anywhere without me, so we packed up three dogs, two cats, (in one carrier), and one of his aeroplanes and headed off to Mackay at midnight the night before the cyclone hit.  I should explain about the aeroplane. Bruce has three planes and a half ownership of a hanger at our local airport, but it’s almost impossible to get insurance for these things. If the Cat. 5 had hit us, the hanger and his planes would have been trashed.

Innisfail Court House on Rankin Street. Taken ...
The morning we left, (Tuesday), I couldn’t eat and I was sure I was going to vomit. I hadn’t slept since the previous Saturday when we realised the cyclone was heading our way.  The whole town was really tense and on edge.  We knew what a Cat. 5 meant if it hit us. The lady at the checkout in Coles had tears in her eyes as we talked about how there was very little tinned food left on the shelves.

People in Innisfail lined up to get petrol all day on Tuesday, every plastic storage container in the town sold out, as did batteries, candles, bottles of water and most of the tinned food.  We knew how to prepare this time.

Residents of the other communities who had ‘been through Larry’, thought we were all being paranoid and a bit over the top. But we lived through the last ‘aftermath’. 

I think that what the other towns didn’t really understand was . . .  Larry hit Innisfail head on. It flogged us for 5 or 6 hours at the most and then it left.  Yasi was headed right for us (again!) and was predicted to have Cat. 5 winds near the eye for 12-18 hours. If that had happened there would be nothing left standing.
33 Cyclone Yasi
As it happened, Yasi turned just before landfall and hit right below us at Tully, Mission Beach and Cardwell.  Innisfail would have got winds at about a high Cat. 3. We lost most, but not every banana plant this time. Few, but some, houses have damage and lost roofs, but not like last time.

During Larry, Tully had almost it’s whole banana crop standing, which tells you that Larry was a small and concentrated hit, while Yasi flogged the living daylights out of a 500km radius.

Tropical Cyclone Larry over the Great Barrier ...
Cyclone Larry, 19th March 2006
Tropical Cyclone Yasi
Cyclone Yasi, 3rd Feb 2011
My heart goes out to the communities worst affected by this horrendous storm. I am still in disbelief at the size and ferocity of it.

It’s going to take a long time for the people in these areas to come to terms with what happened. 

My nightmares have started up again and I wasn’t even here to have that terrible howling noise of the wind in my head . . . but still, I can hear it. I’m having dreams where I’m just afraid of something, or nothing, I can’t explain. I’m not dreaming about cyclones, but I can’t say I’ve slept properly since before it hit, even though I seem to be sleeping every chance I get.

I know these are symptoms of the anxiety and panic now, so I am more able to understand them and let the feelings flow through me instead of trying to pretend I’m ok and keep my mind too busy to be able to think about the ‘hard stuff’.

Just like I set time aside each day to meditate, I set time aside, (just a small amount), for me to think about the things that are worrying me in detail. I let my mind go for it! All the bad things that can or could or may happen float through my head . . .  but I just watch and listen to them. I am working on not personalising them or dwelling on them, just letting them happen and accepting them as thoughts and not reality.

Of course, I’m not always successful. For instance, it’s nearly midnight and I can’t sleep. I’m having trouble switching off my brain to the ‘what if’s’ at the moment. Writing about it will help, I’m already yawning and feeling ready to try to relax again.

I went to meet my new boss today and the teacher I’ll be working closely with this year.  I was very open with them about my melt down and my recovery. Not sure if they were shocked or interested or could care less or maybe they were just worried about how I’ll cope at work.  It doesn’t matter to me, best to be honest and open about these things. After all, we did just have another cyclone and there’s more to come yet I’m sure!
Black Humour

It’s been nearly a month since I wrote the post above. I still haven’t had a good nights sleep since before the cyclone and don’t really expect to until cyclone season is over.

For some unknown reason they sent the army away AGAIN after only two weeks. All the communities that were less affected still have piles of green waste and household damaged items sitting out the front of their places.  The more damaged areas still have masses and masses of work to be done.

The insurance agencies are insisting that contractors from NSW, Brisbane and VIC do all the repair work and are also replacing white goods and furniture with items purchased and shipped from Melbourne and Sydney!!! 
  • Never mind that the Premier said this wouldn’t happen. 
  • Never mind that the local businesses are missing out on a chance to employ locals and keep the local economy afloat. 
  • Never mind that the elderly now have to hire people to clean up for them. 
  • Never mind that the natural disaster relief money ($1000 per adult) still hasn’t been given to those who applied just after the cyclone, and the list goes on . . .

I don’t understand.  Someone I know was chasing up Bob Katter today. I hope he can help. This situation is nuts. 

Anyway, I’m going to post this blog now. But I’m sure I’ll have more to say!

Oh, and we only lost about 20-30% of our donations. The Overflow in Innisfail where we store most of our stuff held up pretty well. Phew!

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