Surviving a Category 5 Storm in Queensland, Australia
Kuranda, atop a mountain in remote Far North Queensland, is a lush rainforest village with a population of less than 3,000. Trees towered and shaded the entire area, so dense that some days it felt difficult to breathe. With just one humble grocery store, resources could run low quickly. I was working and boarding at the historic Kuranda Hotel when a tropical storm made its way towards the area.
My boss, a sucker for a dollar, began selling our food and liquor supplies to the townspeople for much more than it was worth. I had no transportation (or savings), so evacuating didn’t seem to be an option. There was only one way in and out of Kuranda: through the steep and winding Kuranda Range. We experienced slips and fallen trees on fine days, so with this monstrous storm headed towards us I was sure we were doomed to be trapped.
Kuranda comes alive when the tourists are in town. Daily buses bring masses of people who flock the main street. There’s noise and colors. while the markets spark delicious smells and wonderful music, and the locals wear big, inviting smiles. These buses brought our bread and butter, but once the last of them turned their taillights towards us and headed back down the mountain, an eerie silence filled the air and darkness fell, highlighting our emptiness and loneliness here in Kuranda.
He suggested we head to his dad’s boat in Townsville, an invitation we accepted in unison. A boat was pprobably not the wisest cyclone shelter, but at least there were no trees or fear of flooding.
The storm was just 24 hours away and I was at work, doing a bartending shift. The usual suspects lined the stools of the large and spooky saloon. Nervous excitement permeated the air. Coming from Florida, I was not scared of a hurricane, but I was haunted by daydreams of the rainforest collapsing, stranding me in this strange village. I stuck out like a sore thumb as a solo female traveler, and some of the trippy villagers made me shudder. The customers reflected on past storms and assured me the power would go out before long. I didn’t even own a flashlight, just some tea candles.
As the beer continued to flow, the customers relaxed in the thought of time off of work and cyclone parties with plenty of booze and food, which they invited me to. I raised my eyebrows but accepted their contact info. I could tell this was the most excitement their community had seen in a while.
I had another issue. My American friend Molly and her guy Keith were on their way to Kuranda, expecting to stay with me at the hotel. I had forewarned them about the cyclone, but she’d already booked. As they traveled closer, the storm intensified. She said she would be fine to ride out the storm with me in Kuranda.
Molly and Keith arrived and enjoyed one beer at the bar, but soon realised we needed to get the hell out of there. They started planning our escape. They extended the rental on their car so we could leave first thing in the morning. We had no idea where we were going as the storm in Queensland seemed to stretch along a good portion of the coast. I advised them to just drive south, far away from the rainforest and towards populated towns and bottled water.
They were wild with excitement, and I thrived off their sense of adventure. I requested a detour to Pita’s house, the boy I was dating. He jumped in the car, mellow as can be, felt our thrill and decided to participate in our evacuation roadie. He suggested we head to his dad’s boat in Townsville, an invitation we accepted in unison. A boat was pprobably not the wisest cyclone shelter, but at least there were no trees or fear of flooding.
We stopped for candy and cheap wine. About four-and-a-half-hours later we were at the marina. We had cards, dominoes and music. Then the cheap wine started flowing. The storm was about to make landfall and we didn’t have a care in the world. The boat swayed and rocked as we sang obnoxiously and shouted belligerently.
Coming from Florida, I was not scared of a hurricane, but I was haunted by daydreams of the rainforest collapsing, stranding me in this strange village.
As the rain thrashed and the wind howled, we taped the windows and moved our party from the top of the table to the floor underneath. The boat was stocked with nonperishable foods, so we munched on corned beef and ramen noodles while playing Uno and truth-or-dare. In the wee hours the storm seemed to be dwindling; we checked our phones for updates and waited a bit for the coast to clear.
The following morning we carefully ventured into tattered Townsville. It was a mess but still intact. The flooding was not catastrophic, but it seemed serious. It was difficult dodging debris, even on foot. We decided to stay another night on the boat while the water receded and the alcohol in our system did the same.
The following day we waited until late afternoon for the heat to help the water recede. We didn’t get far before we hit an incredibly long line of parked cars on the main freeway. Some cars were totally locked up and left behind. We eventually made it home obscenely late. We were all wiped out and ready for real beds. Keith and Molly went to a hostel and I avoided Kuranda; it was nice to stay with Pita a bit longer. The cyclone party turned out to be fun after all.