The house that defied Cyclone Larry

Ivana Edwards’s friends and neighbours laughed when she and her husband built their steel-reinforced concrete house 20 years ago to withstand any weather that tropical northern Australia could throw at them.

But as half-a-dozen troops swarmed over her neighbour’s wooden house on Thursday, strapping heavy-duty tarps over collapsed sections of wall and roof, she knew they had been right.

“We built a house to withstand a category five. The neighbours laughed at us ... but my husband said, ‘Well, I want something that’s going to stand.’”

She and her husband huddled inside their concrete block house early on Monday as category-five Cyclone Larry—the most destructive storm to hit north-eastern Australia in decades—reduced another neighbouring house to splinters.

Many people in this part of the world live in old wooden houses on stilts known as Queenslanders.

But those decades-old buildings were among the worst-hit on Monday, losing roofs, walls or almost disintegrating in Larry’s onslaught.

A huge chunk of twisted metal roofing from that house smashed into the Edwards’s garage, piercing the roof and jamming their cyclone-proof doors, which were otherwise undamaged in the storm.

Inside the Edwards’s home, a few ceiling panels had buckled under the pressure of the winds, but there was no sign of leaking or other internal damage.

“We can fix it and it will be like new,” she said, standing in the garage looking up at the mangled ceiling.
“The yard’s a mess, we’ve lost all our trees, fruit trees, garden. But they can be fixed. It’s no problem.”

But many others in this rural farming community were not so lucky. On Bunda Street in East Innisfail, Robbie Moore stood in his leaky living room trying to salvage what remained of his ruined belongings.

Built in 1918, his wooden Queenslander house was ripped to shreds as he huddled inside with his family. Around him, newer houses withstood the tempest with minimal damage.

“My wife doesn’t ever want to live here again,” he said, pointing out the rusty nails that failed to hold his house together. “We just don’t think she’s going to feel safe ever living here unless it’s done [rebuilt] properly.”

Moore said he is waiting on insurance inspectors to assess the damage before deciding his next step.

“You don’t know what they’re going to say and how much they’re going to [give],” he said. “We don’t want to live in a dodgy house ... you don’t want to go through something like that again.”—Sapa-AP

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