Thursday, February 03, 2011

A-OK after Cyclone Yasi

Well, it was a category five cyclone, the same as Katrina which devastated New Orleans, but current reports are no deaths or serious injuries.

Cyclone Yasi veered south just before making landfall and instead of slamming directly into Cairns hit much smaller towns.

People who've been to Far North Queensland, usually to visit the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest or the small islands, will know the small coastal towns of Mission Beach, Tulley, Innisfail, Cardwell, Ingham...all were hit badly.

Tulley, a small town with a population of about 3,500, is one of the worst hit with one in three houses destroyed or damaged. The town centre looks like this:

Photo:  John Wilson HeraldSun

There's a lot of damage and as flooding followed the winds it's not over yet.

Trees are down everywhere and one of the big industries up there, banana plantations, has lost 90% of the crop. Bananas are a $400 million industry and there's also been an estimated $500 million of sugar cane destroyed, so the damage bill is high.

Photo: Jamie Hanson HeraldSun

But so far there are no human casualties, although the emergency services still haven't been able to reach some smaller towns or isolated properties.

Even if they do find casualties it'll be a small toll compared to the size of the cyclone. Category Five is as bad as it gets.

The reason is that the Queensland government and emergency services did an excellent job of informing people what to expect, issuing evacuation orders, setting up evacuation centres, telling people what to do. Radio was used extensively - the ABC local radio network is used in emergencies like bushfires or cyclones as an information service.

Last evening I heard them telling anyone who hadn't yet evacuated that it was too late, they must not venture out but go to the safest room in their house etc etc.

Good stuff.  I usually criticize governments and bureaucrats but this time they got it right.

Thousands did as they were told and went to evacuation centres such as shopping malls. When they see the damage outside they'll be glad they did.

I've also been impressed with the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. She seems to have been everywhere, she's all over the media giving people hard, up-to-the-minute information, something that normally is the last thing we get.  

There are plenty of interviews with people of course. I particularly liked the wry humour of the policeman asked before the cyclone hit by the Sydney Morning Herald how his family would be staying safe. "My wife must have got hold of a good long-range forecast - she cleared off with the kids two years ago" he said.

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