Day One Wednesday – 13 December 2023
Increasing swirling wind with horizontal rain lashing house.
Jasper is not our first cyclone since we moved to Far North Queensland forty years ago. Probably the worst for us was Larry in 2006 as we had structural damage which took many months to have fixed. That was one of the things that I was dreading with Jasper as there are just no tradies around nowadays. But fortunately we seem to have avoided structural damage so far and the main storm is now moving slowly out across Cape York and into the Gulf of Carpentaria ; still lots of rain.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about these cyclones is that the power goes out almost immediately, in this case we lost power shortly after lunch on Wednesday (13 December).
When the power goes, so does our ability to communicate: we have a mobile smart phone and a landline, both failed instantly – I’m still baffled about that as I had believed that we would at minimum have access to emergency services : and of course the internet is down.
We live in a regional area in the Atherton Tablelands, we don’t have reticulated town-water, relying on rainwater tanks and a bore – all of which depend on pumps to generate water flow and that requires electricity. So we fill buckets from a tank with a gravity tap – some of our neighbours fill wheely bins with water for flushing toilets etc. There are no showers while the power is off.
Mobile devices have their place and on the first night I was very pleased that I had a Kindle reader and could read a book before nodding off. But devices run down and can’t be recharged readily. I’m hoping to recharge my Kindle and my radio through the USB on my computer which still has battery power. Interestingly, the portable radios we used to see that took AA batteries have largely been replaced by fixed batteries which need to be recharged, like your phone, if there is power – which there isn’t.
I listen avidly to the regional ABC to get updates on the cyclone’s progress but oddly the announcer keeps directing listeners to the BOM website for updates – hello there is no internet ! She also encourages listeners to phone in details of ‘what things are like at your place’. Obviously only people with a phone signal will call in – you won’t hear from us.
Day Two Thursday – 14 December 2023
Still no power.
A large tree came down on the road opposite our place. A neighbour and I revved up our chainsaws and cut a path through for passing traffic. I now realize that I should have bought a spare chain for my chainsaw.
Rechargeable battery devices are running down – I recharged my Kindle and my portable radio from the Laptop USB port but now the laptop battery has run out.
We have a stove with an electric oven but a bottled gas range so we were able to fix some scrambled eggs for tea. Those who suggest that we should do away with gas appliances in the home need to think about what happens when there is no electricity. At least with a gas top we can heat water for washing, washing-up, making a cup of tea, heating baked beans in a saucepan and even doing a small roast in the cast-iron pot. As we hasten the transition to renewable energy – we need to think about these situations. We have solar panels but are still obliged to rely on the grid – we need to think about what we do when the power goes down.
Early to bed as obviously we have no light and no TV. The announcer on the regional ABC radio is still asking us to text or phone in with our story : mate, we still have no external communications !
Day Three Friday – 15 December 2023
The rain continues, we have a rain gauge with 250mm capacity (ten inches in the old money). It overflowed overnight so I don’t know how much rain we have had but it’s lots.
Our daughter-in-law arrived this morning with a small Honda generator she had borrowed from friends in Malanda who have not lost power. As she was leaving, another large tree came down blocking the road and bringing down the powerlines : we alerted emergency services and told our neighbours not to try to clear the tree as even though we were without power there was still a risk with cables all over the road. The Fire Service arrived and shared our concern but they don’t do trees or powerlines but they alerted Ergon our power supplier who removed the powerlines and they contacted our local council as the council are responsible for trees.
With the generator we have light and can recharge all of the rechargable devices but it won’t operate the coffee maker – two days without a caffeine hit – we tried pounding some coffee beans in the mortar & pestle but there must have been some residual pepper in it – it didn’t taste so good.
On the radio they’re talking about flooding of the Daintree, Mossman, Barron and Mulgrave river systems and cattle finding no safe haven being washed away, out to sea: also concerns about salt water crocodiles on the move as their habitats are destroyed and they sense a feed floating by – very well adapted are the crocodiles, not surprising that they have survived so well over the millenia.
Water is of course plentiful and we continue to carry buckets from our rainwater tank with the gravity feed. Still haven’t had a shower but a squirt of deodorant will suffice again today.
We have moved the major contents of our freezer to a neighbour who has a big chest freezer and a bigger generator. Don’t know how long the power will be off. It was ten days after Larry and as I recall Premier Anna Bligh gave us all a $1000 handout recognising that over ten days much frozen food would have been lost and whilst the ever helpful Home Insurers cover loss of frozen food stuffs it will be subject to an minimum $500 Excess. I wonder if our newly minted Premier, whose name I forget, will give us a handout.
Can’t help thinking of those poor sods in Gaza, herded into an enclave, starved of food, power, water and having bombs rain down on them. We have little cause to complain.
Our emergency services are first rate, this morning we have had fire services out, energy people making the fallen powerlines safe and local council preparing to remove the fallen tree : all in torrential rain – well done you !
Went out to get some fuel for ours and neighbour’s generators. Our local servo has no internet so can only take cash – I have no cash. Drove to next nearest town, Malanda, and was able to buy fuel on credit card. Clearly we are not a cashless society when in extremis. Heard of an EV owner and strident supporter for the elimination of fossil fuels who is only able to charge his Tesla from a neighbours petrol generator – oh the irony !
Heard on the car radio that Telstra has sheepishly advised that their mobile towers rely on electricity from the grid and only have limited battery backup ; that’s why our phones crashed as soon as the power went off.
Day Four Saturday 16 December 2023
Still no power.
Ergon Energy removed the fallen power lines from the road and those tangled in the fallen tree. Council workers then cleared the fallen tree. Had a chat with them but they know nothing about power situation. One of the workers has a broad Glasgow accent. He was chainsawing in torrential rain. I asked him if all this made him want to go back to Scotland. He said ‘not when I’m having so much fun’. They have cut up the logs into manageable lengths and brought in a loader to shift them off the road.
Ergon returned and have restrung the wires and we got power back on at 2 pm today.
Really impressed with the co-ordination, dedication and professionalism of the Ergon workers. We are fortunate in Queensland that the distribution of power and the ‘poles & wires’ are still in public hands although the former LNP government tried to privatise them and will no doubt try again if they to get back into office in Queensland in 2024.
Just a note to the activists who daub orange paint on works of art and disrupt sporting events insisting that we shift away from fossil fuels immediately. It may be an idea for those people to present their plan for the transition to renewables whilst ensuring a consistent and reliable supply of power including during severe weather and fire events. The one thing that this episode has brought home is our complete dependence on continuity of electricity supply.
The resilience of ordinary people and the importance of good neighbours is a comforting constant in our community and the broader society. Cairns and the Daintree are in flood as the massive amounts of water pass through the stressed river systems.
The rain continues !
Good night and Good luck.
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