HOPPING up to make a mobile phone call saved Bundaberg’s parish priest Fr John Daly from death or terrible injuries as one of the Australia Day tornadoes hit his Bargara house.
Fr Daly was sitting by a large plate glass door preparing a homily shortly before his narrow escape.
One of the tornadoes whipped up by ex-Cyclone Oswald speared a metre-long branch from a downed bunya pine tree to where he’d been sitting moments earlier.
“I’d just hopped up to make a mobile phone call and as is my habit stood up to walk around while I was on the phonel,” he said.
“I had just reached the hall when the phone went dead.
“Next thing I heard a sound like a jet and saw glass flying everywhere around where I’d just been sitting …
“The whole thing happened so quickly and then it was gone.”
The dining area – where Fr Daly could also have been sitting as it was about lunch time – was also smashed by another of the branches from the same bunya pine.
Ex-tropical cyclone Oswald left a trail of destruction with devastating winds and record rain falls on Queensland’s coast from the Capricornia south all the way down the New South Wales coast.
The death on Monday of a three-year-old boy hit by a tree in Brisbane’s north, took the toll of those killed by incidents related to the cyclone to four, and later in the week that toll rose to six.
On January 25, Rockhampton recorded its highest daily rainfall since 1939 and areas such as Yeppoon experienced severe flash flooding.
Gladstone was also severely impacted with unprecedented flooding. Houses in Tannum Sands and Benaraby were inundated.
Bundaberg has been particularly hard hit with as many as five tornadoes ripping through areas including Bargara and Burrum Heads.
In Bundaberg, record flood waters left dozens of people trapped on rooftops with at least 2000 properties reported flooded.
The communities of Gympie, Gayndah and Maryborough and surrounding areas were flooded.
The Lockyer Valley, where 19 lives were lost in the state’s 2011 floods, was another area of concern.
By last Monday the huge weather system had continued its destructive path through northern NSW and on to Sydney.
Fr Daly said the homily he was starting to write shortly before his narrow escape was going to be on how Australians take things for granted.
“At Mass the next day I was certainly able to speak on the topic off the cuff,” he said.
“Only about nine people were able to make Mass out of the usual 170 to St James’ Church.
“The weather was too wild for most people to get in.”
Fr Daly regarded himself as fortunate in other ways as well.
He was speaking from his damaged house to which he’d returned to let a tiler and an electrician access the damage.
“I’ve been able to stay nearby with my brother,” he said.
“At least my house is above water – many of the parishioners, including my secretary have their homes under water.”
Fr Daly said even driving about to support parishioners was a challenge.
“Petrol is in short supply as most has been requisitioned to support emergency services in Rockhampton,” he said.
Bishop of Rockhampton Brian Heenan speaking on Fr Daly’s narrow escape said: “Thank God this wonderful, long-serving priest has escaped harm.
“It’s a miracle really.”