Kalbarri – in the weeks since Cyclone Seroja

By April 27, 2021 Blog

Written by Grace Crogan – Kalbarri Rebuild Fund.

So, I agreed to write this blog post some days ago. It’s now very late in the evening, again (how does that keep happening!?), and I thought the best way to start this was to just be honest.

I don’t think my family has touched the ground since, well, Sunday of the cyclone really. I think for a few fleeting moments we were able to come together for some stillness, but even that doesn’t quite feel real.
Kalbarri has been my family home since 2014, and my family have been travelling back and forth from there for school and work for the last 3 years. I remember visiting there as a kid, and I know that both of my parents had been holiday-ing in Kalbarri since they were kids, too.

With Dad up in Kalbarri and the rest of us down in Perth, we spent a lot of Sunday night anxiously waiting by the phone. Waiting for Dad to text, to call back.

The town lost power at around 6 pm. Soon after there was a video uploaded to Facebook of the storm swirling around the town. I think I watched the video about 3 times, looking at how black and ferocious everything was, before realising that the sun hadn’t even set yet when the video was taken… and there was no light!

Dad called us just as things were really amping up, about seven, I think. We hung up the phone holding our breaths for when we’d hear from him again. I think it was close to nine when we heard from him, saying that it’d calmed down slightly and the wind was coming from the other direction now, meaning the cyclone had passed over them.
Monday morning after the cyclone, we were paralysed. Stuck to our screens watching as the news rolled in. It was heartbreaking, hearing everything that had happened to Kalbarri, to our home. Seeing the devastation. Reading the news reports. All the damage that had happened in that hour or so when the eye of the cyclone passed over Kalbarri.
By Monday lunchtime we’d lost communication with our dad and the rest of the town. The backup generators for the satellite tower had run out. We knew that there were people with no houses, no food, no power, and no emergency services (the Firestation, Ambulance Centre and Health Centre had all lost their rooves. There was nowhere to set up an evacuation centre). Mum and I were about two heartbeats away from racing up there with as much as we could fit in the car to give to whoever needed it. We held off.

It took until Tuesday, when I dragged myself out of home and to uni, that things finally started sitting heavy. It took finally finding the words to tell people, and hearing myself talking about the severity of what had happened to our small town, for everything to hit me. Up until then it had all felt very surreal, and just slightly out of reach. Shock, I guess.
Even now I’m struggling to write in a way that logically reflects everything that’s happened in the last week or so. It’s all a bit of an adrenaline-fuelled blur. Any and all excessive ‘thinking’ went out the window, we just had to work. Work to get donations together, to make meals, to fill up the cars, to get packed, to go, to help, to do what we could and what we had to.
Before I even left Uni on Tuesday we had a game plan. My brother, my mum and I had reached out on all of our social media’s with a list of donations we needed to collect for the people in town who’d lost everything. At the same time, Mum had already gotten together with Margo Kobi and Fredrick porter to start the Kalbarri Rebuild Fund. How they banded together so quickly I don’t know. I just remember sitting in class trying desperately not to get overwhelmed when mum forwarded me the page, and jumping on board from there.

My heart ached to be able to race up to Kalbarri with the rest of my family and give everyone there a hug. Mum and my brother had taken off to Kalbarri with two cars full of physical donations for the town. It was an amazing effort that we managed to pull together in some 24 hours, but didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what was needed for Kalbarri and everyone there. It felt wonderful to know that the rest of my family were up there giving as much as they could, but even then, it was hard to escape the feeling of ‘this isn’t enough’. What we were providing in those few days were only emergency and immediate relief. Looking at all the damage that had happened with new eyes – out of the panic – brought a new sinking feeling. This is all going to take years to fix.

Despite all the strength and generosity of the people in town, it doesn’t fix the sheer magnitude of damages that happened overnight. More than 70% of the town’s structures were damaged in the cyclone. 40% are damaged beyond repair. Damage bills for the town alone, let alone the rest of the destruction caused by Cyclone Seroja throughout the rest of the state, lie somewhere in the 10’s of Millions of Dollars at least.

So, essentially, that’s why we’ve started Kalbarri Rebuild Fund with Echo International Aid. While the locals are giving everything, they can into pulling the town back together, we want to make sure that they’re all looked after too – that funds are coming their way to assist them with the rebuild. It’s been a really scary time for a lot of people, this past couple of weeks. I think now, most people have some sort of temporary set up that will work for them while things get done, but it’s far from comfortable in many cases. The town finally has power again, but the novelty of the circumstances is really starting to wear off. Meanwhile, the work doesn’t get any lighter, and people have still lost so much.

All of the organisers for Kalbarri Rebuild Fund have a life in Kalbarri in some way or another, which is why we’re so passionate about it. We’re all volunteering our time and energy into this fundraiser and making sure that every dollar gets back to Kalbarri. This is part of the reason why we’ve partnered with Echo International Aid as our auspice body too. Echo themselves are a volunteer-run charity body whose values and mission align with that of the Kalbarri Rebuild Fund.
It’s been such a trying week, but I know that if we can get this fundraiser out further than it is now we can help a lot. We’re trying to raise as much as we can before May 3rd to be able to release the first round of funds to the locals in Kalbarri. But we don’t want it to end there. With the fallout of this event taking such a long time, we want to be able to provide support until everybody is really back on their feet.

I’m hoping to get up to Kalbarri as soon as my Uni semester is over and try to give my family and friends up there some extra love. In the meantime, I want to do everything I can to get this fundraiser out as far as I can, and to gain as much support for the town as possible.