Neighbours pitched in to help each other clean up after Cyclone Debbie, building strong community bonds. (ABC News: Jonathan Hair)
The trauma of living through Cyclone Debbie still lingers for Whitsunday resident Cony Von Strobl-Albeg.
It has been almost 18 months since the severe category four storm smashed into the Whitsunday coast.
With the main street of Airlie Beach now looking largely like it was before the storm, the emotional impact on those who went through it remains.
“It was really scary, I was really horrified to think about what my friends would be going through,” Ms Von Strobl-Albeg said.
“I just kept thinking, how many dead friends am I going to have?
“It’s still pretty raw, but it’s good to talk about it and how other people experienced it.”
Whitsunday residents Andrea Farley and Cony Von Strobl-Albeg say it is helpful to talk about their experiences. (ABC Tropical North: Melissa Maddison)
Whitsunday author Gail Harvey, who has written a series of children’s books, was on Hamilton Island when the cyclone hit.
Her book, Batten Down the Hatches, was written to help people better understand cyclones and how to prepare and recover.
She said now the book had been released, it had given her — and others — a chance to reflect on what happened and how everyone affected was coping.
“Each person I’ve met through this book is still processing it,” Ms Harvey said.
“Something like this changes your life, you have to learn and grow.
“I’m now more open to talking to people … that’s something that I’ve noticed has changed.”
Ms Harvey decided to write the book in the days after the cyclone, during a writer’s conference in Melbourne.
“I got to Melbourne and I felt quite disoriented and a lot of the authors gave me a lot of support.
“It was like a form of therapy writing it and getting it down on paper.
“I’ve been in the Whitsundays for 30 years and been through many cyclones, but that was the worst I’ve ever experienced.”
Whitsunday author Gail Harvey wanted to do something to help people better prepare after experiencing Cyclone Debbie firsthand. (ABC Tropical North: Melissa Maddison)
Ms Harvey has been hosting book launches through cyclone-affected parts of the Whitsundays and said those who attended shared their stories and experiences.
Cannonvale resident, Andrea Farley, said having a written story helped people recover.
“It helps them to process and realise that they’re not alone,” she said.
“Sharing is an important part of healing and it’s good to have something as a point of reference.”
Ninety-year-old Helen Squires, from Kootingal in regional New South Wales, visits Airlie Beach every year and said it was hard to watch the disaster from afar.
“It was really sad to see it,” she said.
“But it was good to see places helping out where they could.”
Community spirit remains strong
Rebecca Woods from the Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre said the community had turned the corner since the 12-month anniversary of the cyclone.
“The community is genuinely looking forward to moving on and not being held back by the impact of the cyclone,” she said.
“But it was a very significant event on emotional wellbeing.
“The trauma doesn’t stop as soon as the cyclone passes.
Ms Woods said one of the other legacies of the cyclone had been more positive.
“We got quite isolated [in the Whitsundays] and we only had each other to rely on.
“When you experience something like that, it creates an unbreakable bond. More than 12 months on, that’s still very evident.”
Ms Farley agreed that it had brought people together.
“Our community has come together, we’ve become friends, you help anyone you can — strangers, neighbours,” she said.
“We’ve become really close and still catch up for barbeques and help each other out. We just know people now.
“We’ve moved cars, we moved roofs and fences and the community is still just as strong as when it was when we were going through the ordeal.”
A resource for the future
Ms Harvey said she hoped her book was a useful tool for people preparing for future cyclones.
“Never become complacent about a cyclone,” she said.
“Each time we get a cyclone warning, people often say, ‘Oh well I’ll wait until tomorrow to prepare’. You can’t do that,” she said.
Ms Woods said even as a long-term local, reminders like filling up the bath with water were invaluable.
“We had filled ours, and two days in I thought I’ll just put my kids in for a bath because we didn’t lose water only to find on the third day that we did actually lose water,” she said.
“They’re the little things that you don’t realise until you’re living in that moment.
“Anything that helps people better prepare, especially those are new to the region is a good thing.”
‘Just not there yet’
Ms Woods said it was important for people to understand that recovery happened differently for everyone.
“If you haven’t come to terms with it yet, it’s not that it’s not going to happen, you’re just not there yet.
“Continue on the journey you’re on and know that you will come away from it more resilient and stronger.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you’re just not there yet.”