In Part 2, we hear from more Kalbarri and Northampton locals still picking up the pieces and moving on two years since the disaster that was cyclone Seroja. STEVE WISEMAN KALBARRI GLAZIER At 8.15pm on April 11, 2021, my world was destroyed. Seroja had made it to Kalbarri with a vengeance. Most people had thought it would miss as so many blows had done before. Standing in my kitchen lighting a candle then being greeted by a shattering window is a memory that will remain for a long time and I am sure many in town will have similar haunting experiences. The next morning was a stark reality of the devastation in slow motion as I looked at the remains of my house scattered around my yard, the neighbour’s house and up the street to the medical centre. The long and arduous road to rebuild was about to start and it was very testing for myself and so many others. I began the clean-up with the help of so many friends and after a week it was looking clean — sort of — for a demolished house. The arrival of an engineer to do assessments was my first hurdle. His opening comment when on the house pad was “what happened here!”. And so the long battle with my insurer and their nominated builder began. One year on was a milestone in time only as materials and trade shortages dragged on, stretching everyone to the limit with continual breaking of promises made by builders and insurance companies. If I had not been able to do most of the work with the help of friends, what has been achieved would be only a figment of the imagination. My wife Julie has now been away in care for two years and sadly will never see the rebuild of her lovely little home. Seroja has taken its toll on so many, myself included. At the start of 2023 I made it my mission to push on hard to get things completed with the hope of being back in the house by the middle of the year. Internal works have now been completed, with the last kitchen items being fitted, plumbing completed and air-conditioning units set up and commissioned. Using local trades as much as possible is paying off and things are getting close to finish. Only 724 days after Seroja I was excited to flick on the power and was greeted by a light at the end of my hallway. What a journey; it’s still not finished but oh so close and now the refurnishing starts after the floor coverings go down, and that has been promised to be started after Easter. It has been a period of life that has gone in a blink of the eye, almost a dream if not for the ever-present photos that remind me, the house destruction and my wife’s picture by my bed in the factory shed I have called home for two years. It has been and still remains a very emotional segment of my life that I will be glad to be free of to some degree when finally I can return home. HANNAH CROSS NORTHAMPTON MOTHER OF THREE I was pregnant at the time and had two children: one was three and one was five or six. It was quite hot and humid but we thought it wasn’t that bad. Leading up to it, even an hour before, it felt like maybe it wasn’t going to come. We were getting ready when suddenly the power went out and then we realised it really was coming. We pulled up mattresses and covers and hid in our makeshift shelter with two children and three adults. The ceiling of the room we had just moved from caved in. We were freaking out and just tried staying connected with family out of town. I remember thinking the roof was about to fall. I had to get on all fours and cover the children. It caved in with a loud woof and bang. Debris dropped down and mice in the roof fell around us. It took a few hours. I remember our youngest one thinking there were army tanks outside trying to blow us up. That night we left, even though we were told not to. We just couldn’t stay there with the kids. We drove past fallen trees, power lines and fences covering the roads, all to get to my parents’ house, to put my kids to bed, cuddle them and tell them everything was alright. When we got back the next day, we realised we had nothing left. Our stuff for the new baby was gone; our photos, keepsakes and memorabilia too. To this day I go to grab something and I realise I don’t have it anymore. Some days the kids say they miss the old house. Our oldest one still gets quite anxious during a storm. We don’t like crazy weather anymore. We bought land to build a new home but it’s impossible to build here. We didn’t realise that at the time. We don’t seem to get a break. I do have to thank the community and the Seroja team for helping us. Everyone has really looked out for each other. LIZ SUDLOW NORTHAMPTON FARMER AND SHIRE PRESIDENT On a personal level on our farm, we sustained lots of damage to fences, sheds and houses. Our first priority was fixing the fences along the highway so that stock didn’t get out. The North West Coastal Highway runs through the middle of our property and the date of the cyclone coincided with the middle of a busy school holiday period, so there was increased traffic. We’re still negotiating with insurance over two houses. Although they are old, they’ve been well maintained and were well insured but are proving challenging to repair. We also have two units in a strata holiday complex in Kalbarri and my husband is the chairperson of the strata group. Liaising with the other 14 owners, the insurance and the builder to get a suitable outcome has been incredibly difficult. Dealing with insurance and builders can easily tip you over the edge. One of the biggest challenges with rebuilding is the current economic circumstances. The cost of building has skyrocketed over the last two years. Workforce shortages and wait times on goods and services are like nothing we have experienced in recent times. From a Shire of Northampton perspective, dealing with the challenges of recovery has been all-consuming. Like most regional local governments, we operate with a constrained budget and with limited staff. Dealing with emergency management is a responsibility of local government that is largely unrealistic. The extra responsibilities placed on staff members in Northampton and Kalbarri has been enormous, particularly in that early period when everything was chaotic and most of the community was in shock. The majority of shire staff in Kalbarri and Northampton are long-term community members and their commitment to our shire over the last two years has been amazing. Liaising with State and Federal governments and the time that it takes to achieve outcomes, particularly in the current climate, has been frustrating, particularly for the Kalbarri community where the cyclone made landfall and caused the most destruction. The recent announcement of $900,000 from the State Government to the Shire of Northampton is obviously welcome. This is part of a $9.2 million package across the 16 local governments affected by cyclone Seroja. However, when compared to the subsequent announcement of $38 million to provide jobs for DFES staff, and when the majority of the $104 million originally announced hasn’t been spent, it does feel a little like we’ve been drip fed. If there’s a positive, it’s reiterated to me that you have to be tough to live in the bush. GUY ACOSTA KALBARRI TOURISM OPERATOR As the owner and operator of a tourism business during COVID-19, the coming of cyclone Seroja was like being kicked while I was down. I started D’Guy Charters in Kalbarri in 2018, shortly before the pandemic began, and before the West Australian boarders were closed for 697 days. When the cyclone came through, we were in a rental. The roof came off, rain came in and damaged our home and belongings. The damages caused to our home and contents were in excess of $50,000. After watching our lives be destroyed, it was time to tackle the issue of insurance. After this, we were informed we would receive $20,000 — this would not even cover half of our belongings. Of the 140 items of value we lost, we would be covered for 40. Even still, it took six months for us to see that money. I received the $10,000 Lord Mayor grant from the government, despite more than $100 million being committed to the rebuild. This is the biggest disaster recovery package to be pledged in the State’s history, and we are yet to see any of it used. We were told that the government would compensate us for the repair of our van, the pillar of our business as a tourism charter operator. We were initially quoted $17,000, I felt uncomfortable letting the government pay such a large sum, so I looked around. I found a sign printing company that would wrap the van in my logo for $8000, which meant the other $9000 could go to people who needed it more. The work of the SES, DFES and Red Cross offered massive relief. They worked tirelessly with the community, day in and day out. They put as much of our roof back on as they could, while we began our search for a new home. The lack of housing became so bad, our friends and family began to move interstate and to other cities, including my daughter who moved to Queensland. I have begun my tours again, and am now equipped to provide commentary about the cyclone’s impact to visitors. Through these tours, I hope to shed light on the destruction caused and bring some positivity to the situation. Through the emotional and physical turbulence, the silver linings are beginning to show. As a community, Kalbarri is even more close knit. Sharing such a painful experience together has brought us together, closer than ever before. MELISSA FINLAY KALBARRI RESTAURANT OWNER Thinking back two years to when Cyclone Seroja hit, I still clearly remember the sound of our roof ripping off our house. We were all good, cool, calm and collected; myself, my husband and three kids were waiting patiently for Seroja. The power was out and the wind was blowing but nothing too severe. We decided to venture to the living room window to inspect some of the damage and that’s when it hit, the wind picked up extremely fast and all composure was lost when we heard the roof lift off. I screamed for the kids to run to the other end of the house. We all bunkered down in the walk-in wardrobe, the five of us and the dog. The two younger kids were now crying, the oldest was exclaiming how he thought it was going to be much more fun than it was. The temperature in the wardrobe was insane. It was so hot it was like a sauna. After a while my husband ventured out and when he came you could see how bad it was from the look on his face! He just said “you won’t believe how much damage there is”. Then just as fast as the wind came it stopped, we honestly thought we were in the eye of the cyclone and it was all going to start again. We sat and waited and then my Dad phoned to say it had passed us, he was in Perth watching its path online. We ventured out to see the damage, the roof had lifted off our kitchen dining and lounge area, our back veranda roof had come straight down (we had tied this down so it wouldn’t fly away). There were no fences out the back and there was all sorts of roofing thrown all over our garden. Then we went out the front. Our solar panels were scattered over the driveway, there was more roofing perched on top of our trailer, our roof was now sitting in the middle of the road.