Cyclones are destructive and inevitable. Every year between November and April, the coastal regions of Queensland are at risk of cyclones.
A cyclone is a violent storm characterised by high winds rotating around a calm centre that can produce winds in excess of 125kmh. These strong winds can cause excessive damage to property and turn debris into dangerous missiles.
Cyclones can also bring flooding rains, which cause further damage to property, and increase the risk of drowning.
Many cyclones also bring about storm tide, which is a rapid rise in sea level that moves inland very quickly. Storm tide can damage buildings, cut off evacuation routes and be the cause of injuries and even deaths.
While most deaths from cyclones occur as a result of drowning, many lives have been lost due to collapsing buildings or flying debris which can become lethal in high winds.
Preparation Steps: Before the Cyclone Season
The information listed below details the preparation that you will need to make before and during cyclone season in order to minimise the damage to your home and your family.
How to prepare your family
There are many important things that you can do now to prepare your family and your home.
- Compile a list of emergency phone numbers and keep it somewhere that is visible to all family members.
- Nominate an out of town family member or friend to be a point of contact in case you or your family become separated during the cyclone.
- Find out if your home is in an area that could be prone to storm tide. For more information, see our Storm Tide page.
- Identify the strongest part of your house (usually the smallest room) and ensure everyone knows where this is in case you need to seek shelter in your home.
- Ensure at least one person in your household knows first aid.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
Every family should have a fully stocked Emergency Kit stored safely in their home. See page 12 for first aid kit list.
Your emergency kit should include:
- portable radio
- spare batteries
- first aid kit
- non perishable food
- sturdy gloves
- warm clothes
- water proof bags
- essential medications
- copies of important documents (insurance details, birth certificates, prescription refills etc)
- special food and medication for infants elderly or disabled family members
- pillows and bedding
- portable gas cooker in the event of long term power outages
Develop an Evacuation Plan
It is essential that you spend a few minutes with your family at the start of the cyclone season to talk about what you will do if an evacuation becomes necessary.
How to make an Evacuation Plan
- Identify a safe place to evacuate to if storm tide or floods are threatening. Family or friends who live in secure accommodation that is further inland and on higher ground are the best option.
- Listen to advices given on local radio to identify the preferred and safe evacuation routes.
- Ensure your vehicles are fuelled in case you need to evacuate at short notice.
- Practice a drill with your family to ensure everyone is familiar with the evacuation plan.
- Decide how you will look after your pets if you cannot take them with you.
- Ensure everyone is familiar with the Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS). SEWS is generally broadcast when a severe cyclone is expected to hit within 12 hours.
Remember that evacuations are only ordered by Police, SES or the Disaster Management Group if storm tide or flooding is likely. Evacuation of dwellings prior to and during the impact of a cyclone is unlikely to be ordered unless for storm tide or flooding. Refer to the next section for information on the opening of cyclone shelters within the Whitsunday Region. Welfare and Evacuation Centres are opened after the event as necessary to provide for persons displaced as a result of the event.
How To Prepare Your Home
- Ensure that your home and contents insurance covers you for storm tide, flooding and cyclone damage including clean up and debris removal.
- Check the condition of your roof, repair any loose tiles, eaves, loose iron and roof screws and gutters.
- Ensure windows are fitted with shutters or metal screens.
- Trim any branches overhanging your house and clear gutters of leaves and debris.
Cyclone Shelter And Evacuation Options
It is critical that you and your family have thought through and planned for your family’s safety before the cyclone season. You need to develop your household emergency plan so you can make safe decisions and preparations for the wet season, especially where you and your family will shelter during a cyclone.
Shelter in Place
If your home is safe, then plan and prepare now to shelter in place If you answer no to all three questions in the following diagram, your best option is stay at home.
You will be more comfortable sheltering in our own home and can keep your pets with you. You can even offer to shelter your friends and family. You still need to plan and prepare now by following these steps:
- Prepare an emergency plan, emergency kit and prepare your home – refer to the Whitsunday Region Emergency Action Guide
- Identify the strongest room in your home. This is usually the smallest room with the least number of windows and external walls.
- Identify your best options to ‘tune into warnings’
Evacuate and Shelter in a Safe Place
If your home is not safe, then plan and prepare now so you can evacuate to a safer place.
If you answered yes to any of the questions in the diagram your best options are to:
- Pre-arrange to evacuate and shelter with family or friends that live in a safer place outside the evacuation zone, in a well maintained building/home, or;
- Pre-arrange to leave the area altogether and shelter in another town outside of the warning area (motel, family or friends)
If choosing to leave and shelter in another town:
- Check now if you will be able to take your pets with you and determine what emergency supplies and valuables you will need to prepare and take with you in your evacuation kit;
- Consider how you will get to your safer location and when you will need to leave. Remember it is better to leave early before wind and storm tide impact your local area; and
- Enact your evacuation plan (when required) and move to your safer location. Remember it is better to leave early rather than wait to the last minute.
Public Shelter Options
Public cyclone shelters must be considered as the last option for residents that live in an evacuation zone, have exhausted all other shelter options and are unable to leave the warning area. Public cyclone shelters are intended as a short term shelter option (up to 18 hours) and have very basic amenities.
You and your family will be much more comfortable sheltering at home, or at family members’ or friends’ home located in an area outside local evacuation zones or with family, friends or at a motel in a location outside the warning area.
Residents in evacuation zones with no other sheltering option will be advised when the Public Cyclone Shelter is activated, via local radio and on Council’s website and Facebook page (Whitsunday Disaster and Emergency Information).
Limitations of Public Cyclone Shelters
These facilities have limited capacity and will be used to accommodate as many people as possible. This means that there will be limited space and you will need to be aware of the following limitations and conditions:
- You will need to be seated in a chair and will not be able to lie or sit on a mattress or stretcher (there is not enough space for bedding);
- Domestic pets and other animals will not be allowed in the shelter and you will need to make other arrangements for sheltering your pets prior to cyclone season. (Note: Assistance animals are permitted to enter the shelter and stay with owners);
- All personal belongings are to be kept within a backpack or small bag able to fit under a chair. You will need to be self sufficient (no food supplied and support yourself and your family for the duration of the shelter period, so you need to include personal medications, essential non-perishable food and refreshments, identification papers and essential personal items. Anything deemed oversized and/or unnecessary will not be permitted into the shelter.
- There are no cooking facilities, limited bathroom facilities and limited medical support provided;
- There will be limited transport and parking options; and
- When using a Public Cyclone Shelter – you may be in the facility for up to 18 hours or more. During this time the building will be “locked down” for a period when the cyclone is passing. To ensure the structural integrity of the building and the safety of occupants during this time, there will be no ability to enter or leave the shelter.
It is a condition of entry that prohibited items must not be brought into the shelter, these include:
- All alcohol
- All weapons including knives or similar edged items
- All illicit drugs and associated items; and
- All aerosols (except personal medications such as asthma puffers etc)
People seeking entry to the shelter will be required to surrender any prohibited items. You and your belongings may be searched by Queensland Police Officers if the officers have a reasonable belief that such items have been taken into the shelter.
Council has produced a Cyclone Shelter information video which is available on YouTube or Council’s website: www.whitsunday.qld.gov.au/cyclone-shelters
Preparation: When A Cyclone Watch or Warning is Issued
What To Do If A Cyclone Watch Or Warning Is Issued By Authorities
A Cyclone Watch is issued by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) when gale or stronger winds associated with a cyclone are expected to hit within 48 hours but not within 24 hours.
A Cyclone Warning is issued by BoM when gales or stronger winds area expected to hit within 24 hours.
The Bureau of Meteorology is the organisation which provides all official cyclone information and warnings. This information is available on the BoM website www.bom.gov.au/qld
If you hear either a watch or warning you should:
- Keep listening to your portable radio and watch the BoM website to monitor the movement (tracking), predictions and severity of the cyclone.
- Check your emergency kit is complete and available.
- Check that your neighbours are aware that a cyclone advice has been issued.
- Clean your property of all loose items.
- Secure boats and move vehicles to a safe place.
- Secure a supply of drinking water in case town supply becomes unavailable.
- Prepare an evacuation kit.
- Withdraw sufficient cash (in the event of power failure which may make banks and automatic teller machines inaccessible) to cover essential items such as food, water, petrol and add this to your Kit.
- Re-fuel vehicles, portable generators and chainsaws.
- Bring children and pets indoors and remain inside until further advice is given.
The Disaster Management Group urges all residents to ensure that preparations undertaken are adequate to guarantee all persons are fully self reliant for food, water, cooking, medications and essentials for a period of not less that 3 days. Recent events are proof of this need.
During A Cyclone
If a cyclone is approaching and an official evacuation order has not been given and you decide to not seek shelter with friends in alternative accommodation or leave the warning area entirely, you must shelter in your home until the cyclone has passed.
If you decide to shelter at home:
- Turn off all electricity, gas and water and unplug all appliances.
- Keep your Emergency Kit close at hand.
- Bring your family into the strongest part of the house.
- Keep listening to the radio for cyclone updates and remain indoors.
- If the building begins to break up, immediately seek shelter under a strong table or bench or under a mattress.
- DO NOT operate a generator in an enclosed space. Exhaust fumes kill.
Beware The Calm Eye Of The Cyclone
Some people venture outside during the eye of the cyclone, mistakenly believing that the cyclone has passed. Stay inside until you have received official advice that it is safe to go outside.
If You Must Evacuate
If an official evacuation order is issued then you and your family must leave your home immediately and seek shelter with friends or family who are further inland or on higher ground or proceed to a location such as the Cyclone Shelter as directed by a Police Officer or an SES volunteer. Please refer to the section on Cyclone Shelters. Prior to leaving your home you must:
- Turn off all electricity, gas and water and unplug all electrical appliances and lock your doors.
- Ensure all family members are wearing strong shoes and suitable clothing.
- Take your Emergency Kit and Evacuation Kit and commence your Evacuation Plan.
If you are visiting or holidaying and do not have family or friends to shelter with contact your accommodation manager immediately to identify options for evacuation.
Recovery After A Cyclone
The time immediately after a cyclone is often just as dangerous as the initial event itself. Many injuries and deaths have occurred as a result of people failing to take proper precautions while exploring collapsed buildings, sightseeing through devastated streets or cleaning up.
Once you have been advised that the cyclone has passed you must adhere to the following:
- Listen to your radio and remain indoors until advised.
- If you are told to return to your home, do so using the recommended routes only.
- Do not go sightseeing.
- Check on your neighbours if necessary.
- Do not use electrical appliances which have been wet until they are checked for safety.
- Boil or purify your water until supplies are declared safe by Council.
- Stay away from damaged power lines, fallen trees and flood waters.
- If your home has become uninhabitable due to cyclone damage, contact the Whitsunday Disaster Coordination Centre on 1300 972 006 to advise of your situation and request assistance.
Road closure hot spots
The Bruce Highway and other main roads can be cut in many places across the Whitsunday Region due to localised flooding. Road closure hot spots include but are not limited to:
- Bruce Highway, Merinda
- Bruce Highway, South of Bowen
- Bruce Highway, Myrtle Creek
- Bruce Highway, near Dingo Beach turnoff
- Bruce Highway, Goorganga Plains, south of Proserpine
- Shute Harbour Road – along Hamilton Plains and Myrtle Creek - between Airlie Beach and Proserpine
- Crofton Creek on Gregory-Cannonvalley Road in Strathdickie
Sandbags are often made available prior to forecast sever weather events. The location and availability of sandbags will be advised by the Whitsunday Disaster Management Group via local radio, the Whitsunday Disaster and Emergency Information Facebook page and the Whitsunday Regional Council website www.whitsundayrc.qld.gov.au
For information regarding school closures relating to a disaster event, please visit the school’s website or contact direct via phone. For public schools, contact the Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE). www.qld.gov.au/education/schools/information/pages/closure.html.
Ensure your home, car and contents insurance is current and covers your assets adequately – your insurance policy will state what disasters you are covered for. While insurers generally cover storm damage, the level of cover varies.
Check for the following with your insurance:
- If you’re covered for storms, floods, bushfires and flash floods. Make sure you understand the definition of each term by asking questions.
- How much you’re covered for – if your property is prone to particular events, ask specifically if you are covered for that.
- Is your cover is enough? Repairs can cost more than you think.
If you have questions about your insurance policy or claim, speak to your insurer first.
Residents are reminded that supermarkets do not necessarily stock additional items due to the possibility of a severe weather event. Roads may be cut off for a period of time and therefore supplies may be short. It is important that your emergency kits are fully stocked at the start of each cyclone season.
Pets are special and they are your responsibility. It is up to you to prepare for the safety and welfare of your pets in the case of an emergency. Individual needs will vary and you will need to decide on the best plan for your circumstances and the options available to you.
Domestic pets and other animals will not be allowed in the cyclone shelters or evacuation centres and you will need to make other arrangements for sheltering your pets prior to the cyclone season.
Please note: Assistance animals are permitted to enter the shelter and stay with owners.
There are currently no temporary animal shelters in the Whitsunday region during times of major emergencies or disasters. Pet owners are encouraged to take all the necessary steps to have a plan in place early.
The State Government’s Get Ready Queensland www.getready.qld.gov.au/be-prepared has information available on preparing a Pet Emergency Plan for household pets.
Here are some basic tips to be applied to household pet emergency planning:
- Properly identify your pets including registration and/or microchipping and ensure your pet has a tag. Remember, telephone lines may be down during a disaster and it is important that any registered method includes your current address.
- Prepare an easily accessable pet emergency kit. Include medications, medical and vaccination records, vet details, sufficient food and bottled water, can opener, a familiar pet blanket, bedding or toy, a secure pet carrier, leash or harness to move animals to safety and consider your animal’s sanitation needs.
- Secure animals inside before an emergency event, so they do not take flight or run away. Never leave an animal tied-up or chained without shelter or bedding. Never leave an animal in a motor vehicle.
- Should your pet be different - such as aquarium fish, reptiles, small livestock etc you may have to make special arrangements in advance of any emergency situation.
- Contact specialised agencies such as Department of Agriculture and Fisheries www.daf.qld.gov.au, the RSPCA www.rspcaqld.org.au or your local pet shop or animal’s veterinarian for specialised advice in planning for emergencies.