By Frank Nicol – Field Staff, Exmouth WA.
After eight years of living in a cyclone prone area as an adult and many cyclone alerts, Frank Nicol shares what it was like to experience severe tropical cyclone Olwyn, which hit Exmouth and the coastal Pilbara in mid-March.
I used to look forward to these massive weather events coming because it’s a different way of living – you have to pack up your house, you get phenomenal amounts of rain and a day off work because you’re not allowed to leave the house and usually nothing happens. Out of about ten red alerts that I’ve been through, this is the first cyclone that has actually hit us on the head and I’m not sure I’ll be excited for cyclones anymore because it was a scary experience.
The morning was spent packing up our house and the houses of people from church who were away. Then we planned what supplies to collect and what we might cook over the next few days. When we checked the surf at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it was raining but the surf was pumping and there was a lot of excitement.
At around 6 o’clock, it started to get very, very windy, even though the cyclone was still five hours away. Outside our house, we realised some things weren’t going to cope so made a few last-minute changes. Then the SES rocked up and I thought they were going to ask us to evacuate, but fortunately they just needed some bedding supplies for their staff, so we were able to loan them a whole bunch of sheets and pillows. After that, we put the kids to bed and just got ready. The kids basically slept the whole night, but we stayed up due to the noise. We lost power at about 9 o’clock at night and it didn’t come on for another 48 hours. The wind kept getting stronger and stronger and at about 11 o’clock, our house was really getting pounded. Water was being pushed in through the windows and doors.
It’s very much an event that is out of your control and you need to just sit and wait, and trust God that whatever happens, happens. At about midnight, we prayed again because I didn’t know if the house would stand up or not. The windows were flexing and one of our cyclone-rated fence panels got punched out and was flapping and looking like it might hit the house near my daughter’s room, so we moved her and then just had to trust God while it passed.
It was a great joy when at around two o’clock in the morning, the wind changed direction and the house was less stressed. We no longer had a water feature in our bedroom through the window and we could finally get a couple of hours sleep before we woke in the morning to see all the carnage.
In the end, there wasn’t a whole lot of damage to our house, but it certainly made us realise that these things are a lot more serious than we’d thought in the past – the difference between getting glanced by a cyclone and getting hit by one is dramatic. One of our church members had their sliding door pop out and smash, so it brought the 190km/h winds into their house and they had to sit in the toilet for four hours. It definitely is a moment where you realise that you are not in control; you can strap everything down, but you just have to sit and wait and see what happens.
We are thankful that we can say God was faithful in protection in the cyclone, but I think He was also faithful in that He can use a scary moment of your life to grow you and provide opportunities for you to serve Him. There were lots of opportunities for our church to come together and serve, at the church and in other people’s houses – chopping up trees, lending chain saws, cleaning up and trying to fix things where they could. Once the power came back on, there were also opportunities for the people with power to be hospitable to those without.
So it’s not as though God says ‘I’ve left you and here is a cyclone.’ He provides amazing opportunities to serve and show Christian love in your community and I think He is faithful, even in the midst of adversity.