October 4th, 2021Stories of the Storm
SANDY Scheltema’s Stories of the Storm series is supported by Hepburn Shire Council, Trentham & Districts Community Bank and the Trentham Lions Club. The series aims to showcase stories of courage, tenacity, bravery and resilience within the community from people who experienced the terrifying storm of June 10, 2021.
BULLARTO resident Ingrid describes her terrifying ordeal on the night of the great storm – alone, with trees crashing down on her house and emergency services unable to reach her.
“I waited anxiously. I remember having the thought it’s bad for Dan (Ingrid’s partner, stuck on the Kyneton-Trentham Road). I was worried a tree would fall on his car. He kept on getting turned around by trees, he came up against a fallen tree and turned around and came up against another fallen tree. He was trapped. He called his mate Brendan.
“They pulled the tree out of the way and the cars that were stuck managed to go a bit further before being stuck again. There was a tree down in front of the old church as tall as a double decker bus. Brendan and Dan managed to get out. Brendan was in hero mode and very excited, Dan was very practical.
“Meanwhile I’d gone to bed and was furiously trying to relax. I was scared. I could hear trees falling and sticks and branches flying into the windows. I didn’t know where Brendan and Dan were. I was worried about Dan’s low phone battery and my own. About 12.30 I heard a big tree come down behind the house. It hit the big canopy, hit our water tanks, and knocked the gutters off. Literally I was trembling and scared. I called my dad again, went out and had a look and said, ‘I don’t want to be out here’. I felt reassured by him. I know now he was terrified, wishing he could be with me to help.
“At that point I called the SES – I couldn’t get through – I felt like I should call and register. A part of me thought ‘It’s a priority, right now!’ I told myself ‘My flight or fight response will kick in if I need it’. A tree landed on the southern side, full across the house. I heard the tearing noise and then the big bang. I didn’t know if that was the sound of the tree or the ceiling collapsing. So I got up, had a look – tentatively, in my nightie.
“By that point my black cat Luther was jammed under my bed. I saw about three square metres of ceiling on the ground and on the couch. I checked the other rooms, you could see structural damage. I didn’t feel safe for a long time after. I called 000. Luckily, I still had reception. They said, ‘We’ll put the call out to police, SES, ambulance’. The call went out to the CFA in Musk to Wayne. He started driving until a tree came down in front of him and he thought ‘Oh no, I’m going home’.
“When I found out he was trying to get here I felt a huge comfort. I felt an internal switch, my mindset shifted – ‘Now it’s time to get prepared’. I didn’t want to keep the SES waiting. I got into some clothes, got a bag for the cat, then shut the door so I wouldn’t have to find him if people came to rescue us.
“I lay down on the floor between the bed and the chimney. I thought that was the safest place. I thought about trying to pull the mattress over myself to protect myself. I looked at the cat and thought ‘He’s safe under the bed but I don’t fit under the bed!’
“I was there for 15 minutes, hearing trees falling. I heard one really close to the house and I thought ‘Alright, this is it’. I got a call from Michael from the SES in Daylesford.
“I told him I was terrified, and he said it was best I should leave. I think my reaction was ‘Are you mad?’ While I was talking to him, I managed to pull Luther out from under the bed and zipped him up in the bag, with some struggle.
“I called my dad and he tried to call our nearest neighbours. Their phone was disconnected, then he called a neighbour about a kilometre away who answered, they had a landline. The neighbour, Paul, said he’d drive down to the main road, but I’d have to get there.
“I made sure the cat was in the bag, and I got my phone, my charger, my super-powerful bike light and I grabbed my bike helmet and put it on. I had planned to cut through our neighbour’s field, but there was a huge tree down creating a new fence. I went around the house but there were more trees down.
“I was on the phone to my neighbour, and I remember saying to him ‘I don’t want to climb those trees,’ and he said, ‘Well if they are fallen down, they are not going to fall on you.’ I climbed maybe five or six fallen trees of shoulder height. I heard a tree falling and started running. I made it to the point where there were no more big trees and got to the disused petrol station.
“It was cold and wet and windy, standing in the dark for 10 minutes under the awning of the disused petrol station. I wanted my neighbour to be there – right then and there. I ran into his car when he arrived. He took me to his house and safety and a cup of tea. I felt relief and appreciation. I felt safe. I felt their warmth and compassion. It took Dan two days to get back through the road to me.
“My neighbours housed me and then Dan for three nights, and then installed us in their B&B. I felt grateful that the people who rescued me then housed us. The insurance said it will be nine months before we can get back in. We’re lucky because it’s not easy to get a rental around here.”
“Because of the Covid lockdown I couldn’t see my parents. We desperately wanted to see each other. We’ve had working bees of friends and families but we had to stop because of the lockdowns. We’ve got years of work ahead of us clearing the trees that are down. I feel overwhelmed. One of my friends said our garden is now ‘cyclonic chic’.
“I believe this storm happened because of climate change. The trees weren’t equipped to deal with a force of 160km winds coming from an unusual direction. Helping one another helps our community get through events like this – caring and being compassionate and not blaming people for things which are outside their control.”