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Photographer's Note

An old photograph from my archives taken on the morning of Christmas Day 1974 after Cyclone Tracy (typhoon in Asia, hurricane in US) hit Darwin.

The strength of the cyclone’s winds is disputed because the measuring instruments were damaged. Officially it was recorded as “greater than 217 kph”, but many believe peak gusts were over 250 kph. About 70 people were killed, hundreds injured, and over 30,000 left homeless.

At around midnight, the wind started bending the windows of our house so much that it was obvious the glass would break soon, so my brother and I put a mattress in the WC (the smallest room with the smallest window), bent in the shape of an inverted ‘V’, and we sheltered under that (fortunately for my wife she was away). Within minutes the windows around the house exploded and the wind started to tear the roof away. We heard roof beams cracking, and then the kitchen started disintegrating with the sound of the cupboards and crockery breaking up adding to the horrendous cacophony of noise.

The ceiling collapsed on us, but the mattress protected us from injury, and we were soon soaked as the cyclone dumped 250 mm (10 inches) of water on us. The next few hours were the most frightening of my life. I was sure we were going to die. The cyclone continued to batter us for about 6-7 hours, but after about two hours a strange thing happened. My extreme fear dissipated, as my mind seemed to accept that I was going to die, and for most of the night I just lay there in pitch black darkness waiting to die. It’s a state of mind that can only be understood by those who have been through a similar experience. But after about six hours, the wind started easing, and realising that we hadn’t died yet, I went back to the state of fear that I had experienced hours earlier, wondering whether the next brick or sheet of roofing iron that hit us would be the one to finish us off.

When dawn broke and some light filtered in, I could see that a jagged roof beam had speared through the wall and was just inches from my neck. I had almost been decapitated – but I was one of the lucky ones.

As we extricated ourselves from under the collapsed house and stood up outside, what we saw was a sight that I will never forget for the rest of my life. As far as the eye could see, everything except a concrete water tower was destroyed or damaged. The trees were gone, power lines had been snapped like string, every roof had been blown away and many houses had disappeared completely. It looked like an atomic bomb had been dropped on the city. At first we could see no other sign of life, and I thought there must be thousands of dead people buried in the rubble. But slowly others starting appearing, some injured, many in a state of shock, but most were like us and just happy to be alive.

I’ve put another shot taken a couple of days later in the WS, and I have a few others in my Cyclone_Tracy Pbase gallery

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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