Baby in a box is all grown up

Gary Holland sprinted across his backyard, through the lashing rain, his arms wrapped around an old ammunition box containing his two-week-old granddaughter.

Debris was flying through the air and he could barely see a metre in front of him but the only thing on his mind was little Mikaela Bamess.

It was March 22, 1999, and Exmouth was feeling the force of cyclone Vance - one of the strongest to hit mainland Australia.

The category-five cyclone left a trail of destruction, devastating families and causing $35 million damage.

Exactly 15 years later, Michelle Bamess vividly remembers watching her dad run for cover in the middle of the cyclone as he clutched the box that held her first-born child.

Mrs Bamess and her then fiance James Bamess were at her parents' house when the cyclone crossed the coast near Exmouth.

They decided to put Mikaela in the steel box and seek shelter in a Toyota LandCruiser, which was parked in a shed, if things took a turn for the worse.

Mrs Bamess was preparing a bottle for her daughter in the morning when a piece of tin pierced a window, changing the air pressure in the house and causing the roof to lift.

The family sprang into action and put Mikaela in the padded box before closing the lid and making their way across the backyard.

"Dad went first carrying Mikaela so that if he dropped her or was hit by something then James could pick her up and keep going," Mrs Bamess said.

"There was that much rain and wind that everything was white. You couldn't see what was coming at you until it was there and when James ran I watched this hose reel fly straight past his face."

Mikaela, who weighed just over 2kg, made it to the shed unscathed along with her parents, grandparents, aunt, a cat and a dog.

She spent the next few hours sleeping in the open box as her family huddled in the car waiting for the wild weather to pass.

They emerged from the shed to a town that resembled a war zone and soon discovered Mr and Mrs Bamess' rental home had been destroyed.

"It was very scary and traumatic and even now I find really strong winds freak me out," Mrs Bamess said.

"My dad has still got that ammunition box. We won't ever get rid of it."

After a few days of showering in the rain and trying to take care of her daughter with no electricity, Mrs Bamess and Mikaela were flown to Perth. They returned to Exmouth three weeks later to try to pick up the pieces of their lives with Mr Bamess.

Mrs Bamess, who was just 16 at the time, was given second-hand furniture and clothes from people in the community who had heard about their plight.

The family have since moved to Perth and still have a shawl that a stranger made for Mikaela after cyclone Vance hit.

Now 15, Mikaela knows all about what happened during the cyclone.

"Mum and Dad told me about it a while ago and they pulled out all of the newspaper clippings for me to read," she said.

"It's kind of funny. One of the student services people at school somehow got a hold of the story last year and he walked past me and said, 'Hello, toolbox baby'."

The West Australian

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