The ‘Pasha Bulker storm’ has a certain ring to it.
In our case, the ‘ring’ sounded like five fire engines wailing inside our house.
Australians have been remembering the day, just over 10 years ago, when an east coast low grounded the coal ship, ‘Pasha Bulker’, on a beach at Newcastle north of Sydney.
The storm that drove the 76-tonne bulk carrier ashore brought flooding, gale-force wind and high seas – and claimed nine lives.
And almost sent us deaf
After navigating tricky flooded roads, we made it safely to our Newcastle home, only to find that the electricity supply had been cut.
Without lights, TV or stove, we adjourned early, completely forgetting about the house burglar alarm that (you guessed it) was electrically-operated.
The back-up battery ran low during the night, triggering the alarm at about 3am, when a near-deafening siren bounced us from our bed.
Disoriented by the ear-shattering wailing, we ran from room to room in the dark, desperately trying to remember where the alarm’s main controls were located.
“Get a torch and check the closet”. Of course, even at a time like this, Sue made sense.
The control box was locked.
Through curses, I remember briefly appreciating the logic of that. Otherwise a thief could simply open the controls and disable the alarm – exactly what we wanted to do.
“Where did you put the key”?
The alarm had been installed nine years before, yet somehow this was now my fault.
I forlornly tried to smother some of the sound by putting a cushion over the ceiling speaker. It didn’t work.
As we continued to frantically search for the key, Sue’s look suggested that, if given a choice, she would willingly smother me.
As is often the way, the key had never been used – so it had been misplaced.
In frustration, we used a mobile phone to call an emergency locksmith – and sat in the dark with pillows over our head awaiting his arrival.
He silenced it in seconds. Our ears continued to ring for hours.
We didn’t dare face the neighbours for quite some time.
Tragic and costly
Although our personal experience is humorous in reflection, the Pasha Bulker storm was a tragic and costly event.
East Coast Lows have been a key feature of Australia’s eastern seaboard for centuries, with the first case studies published in 1954.
However, in June 2007, much of the Newcastle area was in the grip of one of Australia’s regular droughts and the thought of heavy rain was remote as people prepared for a three-day holiday weekend.
Then came a reality check.
It started bucketing down on the Friday morning and, within a few hours, the area was being pummelled.
A friend lost her car to rising water outside our office while another colleague was forced to transfer her wedding location when the bushland setting became a river.
However, the grounding of the Pasha Bulker stole the show, made international headlines and weaved itself into the already-rich folklore of Newcastle.
A decade on, visitors to the city are sometimes puzzled by a red lump of metal on a pathway adjoining Nobby’s Beach.
A piece of public art, the metal was taken from the rudder of the Panamanian bulk carrier and is significant indeed for those who lived through the Pasha Bulker storm and its aftermath.