Emerging from 10-hour terror - El Arish ..YASI


ONE of the most devastated victims of Cyclone Yasi, the village of El Arish, south of Innisfail, has a history so Australian that each of us should pause and doff our hat any time we pass.
It was established in 1921 as a Soldiers' Settlement township. World War I veterans were given small blocks of land on which to grow food for sustenance and cash crops, in particular sugar cane.
For the next 50 years it was home to resident and itinerant gangs of cane-cutters-- the sunburnt Aussies (mostly Italians) who had the back-breaking task of harvesting the cane crop each year by hand.
Today, El Arish (population 340) is home to retirees who have escaped the bustle of city life, and labourers who work on banana plantations in the district.
Steve Duggan and his friend Brooke Eyles ``work with bananas'', and both lost their homes when Yasi buffeted the township for almost 10 hours on Wednesday night and yesterday morning.
``When the roof of this house started to lift, I hid in the stairwell, and when it all caved in, I ran to the car shed and hid in the car until it passed in the morning,'' he said.
``It was terrifying. This house lost its roof to Cyclone Larry five years ago, but that was over in an hour. Yasi took 10 hours to pass.''
At a house on the other side of the railway line, a large machinery shed was upturned, and one of the heavy steel uprights was speared through the roof of the home next door. Nearby is a disused transport facility that was used by a local family to store furniture and motor vehicles. The roof was gone and the walls had collapsed on several cars stored inside.
Les Pavan, a retired mechanic, has been in El Arish all his 66 years. He lived through Cyclones Agnes in 1966, Winifred in 1986 and now Yasi.
``I was away for Larry, but my neighbours told me today that Yasi was much worse, because Larry was over in an hour or 90 minutes, but Yasi took 10 or 12 hours,'' he said.
``It was a frightening time for everybody.
``My home did not suffer all that much . . . it was steel-built by the army all those years ago.''