Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi 2011. Port Hinchinbrook aerial view of  luxury yachts and boats that bore the brunt of the destructive winds and storm surge.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi 2011. Port Hinchinbrook aerial view of luxury yachts and boats that bore the brunt of the destructive winds and storm surge.

‘Deck was covered in boats’: Yasi’s impact 10 years on

TEN years on from one of the worst tropical storms to cross the Queensland coast, David Hutchen will never forget his front row seat to destruction as the outer eye of Cyclone Yasi thundered through Port Hinchinbrook.

Leaving for higher ground just before the category five storm ripped the marina to ribbons, nothing could prepare the luxury waterfront homeowner for the scene of destruction that played out on his front deck.

In the early hours of February 3, a 5.3m storm surge combined with wind speeds reaching 185 km/h lifted nearly every boat in the marina beyond the reach of the vertical pylons that anchored floating pontoon walkways in place.

Headlines read "MONSTER MASH" and "CARNAGE" after dozens of boats became sandwiched together in a twisted mess.

"It was pretty monumental; (the) deck was covered in boats.

"There was a yacht in the garden and a 60-foot fishing boat on the outer wall, a 36-foot game boat (on the deck) and all the furniture was wrecked. It wasn't a pretty sight," he said.

 

The clean up in cardwell and Port Hinchinbrook soon after Yasi hit in 2011. Picture: Tom Lee
The clean up in cardwell and Port Hinchinbrook soon after Yasi hit in 2011. Picture: Tom Lee

 

Retreating from the advancing storm with a bottle of cognac Mr Hutchen admits to sleeping through the battering but was shocked at sun-up to see the extent of the damage.

"I said to the wife, 'there has been a bit of nonsense here overnight'," he said.

"You could see masts sticking up in the air. It blew like buggery at about 11 or 12 o'clock, or so my wife tells me, and stripped all the foliage (which) all got dumped in the street and then there was half a metre of rain in about half an hour.

"All the stuff washed into the drains and the water couldn't get away. I walked into the driveway and got my balls wet coming across the road, it was that deep. All the streets were flooded."

His wooden motorboat, Seahorse, had her keel ripped out as it was dragged over a rock wall - the craft ended up in neighbour Lindsay Hallam's swimming pool, the bow threatening to come through the living room window.

"(After the cyclone) I remember thinking this is going to be a major inconvenience for about a year.

 

Damaged boats are stacked on top of one another at Port Hinchinbrook boat harbour in Cardwell, Thursday, February 3, 2011. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Damaged boats are stacked on top of one another at Port Hinchinbrook boat harbour in Cardwell, Thursday, February 3, 2011. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

 

"Ten years later and it's still an inconvenience; now the place is full of mud," he said.

"I didn't get my boat out of that position for a month. There were guys here with cranes and God knows what every day for a month and mine was the last boat (to be removed) because it was further in than anyone else's."

Built by controversial Gold Coast property developer Keith Williams in the 1990s, Port Hinchinbrook has never recovered from the catastrophic impact of Cyclone Yasi. Marina berths have never been rebuilt.

Black pylons sticking out of the mud act as a lasting reminder of what Cyclone Yasi took away.

Retired businessman David Hutchen at his Hinchinbrook Harbour waterfront home. Port Hinchinbrook was badly damaged when Tropical Cyclone Yasi hit the seaside town in 2011. Mr Hutchen lost his wooden motor yacht in the cyclone. Picture: Brendan Radke
Retired businessman David Hutchen at his Hinchinbrook Harbour waterfront home. Port Hinchinbrook was badly damaged when Tropical Cyclone Yasi hit the seaside town in 2011. Mr Hutchen lost his wooden motor yacht in the cyclone. Picture: Brendan Radke

Up-turned tables can be seen through the window of the closed restaurant and shoulder-high grass pushes up under a sign spruiking luxury villas for sale at the abandoned sales centre.

But millions of tonnes of silt land-locking the marina is the reason the former Whitsunday tourism stalwart is hanging the for sale sign on his multimillion-dollar property and moving to the Gold Coast.

Mr Hutchen said "not a cracker" was invested by Williams Corporation in the wake of Cyclone Yasi.

"Keith Williams had been seriously inconvenienced by ill health, so he was out of the picture …," he said.

 

A decade on and the impact of the cyclone is still being felt.

"At low tide as far as the eye can see, it's all mud.

"There's no water," he said.

Yasi has been blamed for the collapse of Williams Corporation in 2013, plummeting Port Hinchinbrook and confidence in the region.

"I came here to retire and this was my ideal retirement.

"To have a boat and go fishing and do whatever I want to do, so yes I am a bit disappointed but life is full of tribulations and you can't let them get the better of you," Mr Hutchen said.

 

READ MORE YASI

Panic then unity as cyclone approached

Storm 'like a freight train' towards coast

 

Originally published as 'Deck was covered in boats': Yasi's impact still felt in Hinchinbrook



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