The Perfect Storm

To achieve perfection, a storm must cause a hell of a lot of damage. This one did…and it didn’t even have a name.

Christmas Island is no stranger to tropical storms and cyclones. A cyclone passes within 100km of the island every year or two during the summer cyclone season. They rarely do much damage, but there are exceptions.

On 1 January 1932, a particularly strong cyclone hit Christmas Island. The normally calm Flying Fish Cove bore the brunt of it.

Flying Fish Cove in 1929 on a calm day

Flying Fish Cove in 1929 on a calm day

First, the raging swell came into the cove. Calm water became a raging maelstrom, washing clean over the top of the loading piers.

Waves washing over the loading piers on 1 Jan 1932

Waves washing over the loading piers on 1 Jan 1932

Rough seas breaking over new pier, Jan 1932

Rough seas breaking over new pier, Jan 1932

On the 2nd January, the storm only got worse.

The combination of incessant rain and pounding waves ate away at the Kampong main road until it washed away entirely.

Washed away roadway in the Kampong

Washed away roadway in the Kampong

Waves breaking in the Settlement

Waves breaking in the Settlement

By noon, the swell had grown so huge that the waves topped the entire loading area, including the oil tanks.

Waves breaking over the oil tanks

Waves breaking over the oil tanks

Waves lapping at the loading ares

Waves lapping at the loading ares

Doomed No 2 pier at 12.15 pm on 2nd January

Doomed No 2 pier at 12.15 pm on 2nd January

Last photo of No 2 pier before it was destroyed

Last photo of No 2 pier before it was destroyed

The waves were so strong that they demolished most of the No 2 loading pier and smashed the loading sheds into kindling.

Heavy seas on 2 January 1932

Heavy seas on 2 January 1932

No 1 Pier and the remains of No 2 pier

No 1 Pier and the remains of No 2 pier

 

Gantry wreckage between Shed No 6 and Bin No 1

Gantry wreckage between Shed No 6 and Bin No 1

Wrecked sheds and conveyor at the end of No 1 Pier

Wrecked sheds and conveyor at the end of No 1 Pier

As the waves kept on coming, they carried debris as high as the treeline, littering Flying Fish Cove with the remains of the island’s precious infrastructure.
View from Settlement of heavy seas at No 3 Pier on 2 Jan 1932Sea breaking through No 3 pier on 2 Jan 1932

No 2 pier's conveyor belt washed up

No 2 pier’s conveyor belt washed up

Debris washed up in the Settlement

Debris washed up in the Settlement

View taken in Settlement showing debris washed up after storm Jan 1932

But there was worse to come.

For days, the torrential rain had been softening up the soil at the top of the cliffs above the Kampong. By the early hours of the morning of the 3rd of January, they were completely saturated. The cliffs gave way in a massive landslide that picked up trees and boulders, engulfing and destroying most of the Malay Kampong below.

Landslides descending on the Kampong

Landslides descending on the Kampong

By some miracle, there were no casualties, and William Browning Jackson, then the Island Manager and Tuan, opened his house to the homeless Malay women and children. His wife and children played host to 22 unexpected houseguests while Jackson and the Malay men salvaged what they could from their buried former homes.

 

William and Anne Jackson and Sikh jaga outside the Jackson bungalow, Flying Fish Cove

William and Anne Jackson and Sikh jaga outside the Jackson bungalow, Flying Fish Cove

 

So when you’re reading Ocean’s Triumph…no, I didn’t make the storm up, nor its aftermath.