Posted by: jkirkby8712 | February 3, 2011

Thursday, 3rd February 2011 – Wind and war

I found this brief response to my enquiry on line yesterday of my brother, up in Rockhampton, Queensland  –  “Hi Bill no wind in rocky but been humid and rainy last 24hours” [Colin]. Didn’t really expect him to have been affected by the cyclone, however wanted to be sure. When I went to bed last night, I almost felt guilty that I was able to do so without any fear of the night, because up north, there was every indication, that thousands of people were in for a terrifying night in the darkness as the cyclone hit the coast. Overnight, about 175,00 people were without power, either through planned switch offs or as a consequence of transmission lines being hit and damaged by the winds.

As daylight came in Queensland this morning, and the winds slowly began to weaken [though still with gusts up to 100 kph] people began to venture out into the streets to assess the damage. Little known of many of the smaller and more isolated communities around the coast, and grave fears are held for property damage in those places. Potentially, a lot of structural damage to essential services was anticipated. There were reports of the devastation of banana plantations – 90% of Australia’s banana production comes from the affected area –  while sugarcane production is likely to be similarly affected. Premier Anna Bligh has said this morning, that at this stage, there have been no reports of any deaths or serious injuries as a result of Cyclone Yasi,. She said Cairns had been spared the worst of the monster storm, with the smaller communities of Mission Beach, Tully, Tully Heads, and Cardwell bearing Yasi’s full force.  The category five Yasi crossed the coast at Mission Beach around midnight (AEDT). It was early this morning downgraded to a category three and is still considered dangerous.  This following report from 7 News gives some idea of the overnight situation, and indications that the town of Tully has borne the brunt of the storm.

“North Queensland residents are expecting daylight to reveal widespread destruction from Cyclone Yasi, after a terrifying night where the region was battered by the worst tropical storm in living memory. Early reports suggest the communities of Mission Beach, where the category five monster made landfall about midnight (AEST), nearby Tully, and Innisfail, 50km north of ground zero, are the worst hit. But Yasi’s fury has been felt hundreds of kilometres away, in Cairns to the north, and Townsville to the south, and all the places in between. And Yasi, with its wind gusts of up to 290km/h, is far from done with north Queensland. Yasi was downgraded to a category four at 3am (AEST) then to a category three at 4.50am, but the Bureau of Meteorology warns that it is still dangerous as it makes its way inland, where it is expected to hit Georgetown – 400km from the coast – later on Thursday morning. “Over the next 12 hours, as the system continues to be fairly intense and moving towards Georgetown, there’s still going to be fairly strong and damaging wind gusts up to 125km/h as it spreads inland,” a BoM statement said. The BoM warns other inland towns are also in the firing line, with communities including Charters Towers, Hughenden and Julia Creek at risk of very strong winds on Thursday, extending possibly as far west as Mt Isa on Friday. Tully, just inland from Mission Beach, appears to have suffered a devastating event, with locals describing scenes of widespread destruction and worse than Cyclone Larry in 2006”.

Google map shows the area expected to be hardest hit by Cyclone Yasi as it crossed the coast last night.

Google map shows the area expected to be hardest hit by Cyclone Yasi as it crossed the coast last night.

Obviously, as the morning progresses, more detailed reports of the damage caused will become available as emergency personnel, police etc get out into the communities. There was one story last night of a call for help from a group of six adults [all in their 60s] from an isolated community on the coast, who had earlier in the day decided to ignore suggestions to evacuate and get out of the area. Waters from the ocean surges were threatening to engulf their 2 storey residence, but at the height of the cyclone approach, no emergency personnel were able to attempt to go to their assistance. The public had been repeatedly warned, that if they chose to ignore evacuation procedures, they would be likely to be left to fend for themselves until it was safe for emergency personnel to venture out. Fair enough!

Meanwhile, in breaking news, there are reports of another ‘serious incident’ involving Australian troops in Afghanistan –  waiting for further information on that, but when they say that a further announcement will be made after next of kin have been notified, it makes it seem obvious that deaths are involved!  [9.05 am, Thursday].

As the day progressed, the news from up north became more depressing – stories of almost the total disintegration of small towns, and in particular houses and businesses, hard to imagine the trauma of returning to your home only to find a virtual pile of rubble where your whole life has collapsed into!  While thankfully at this stage [and much of this is due to preparation and warnings] there has been no reported loss of life or serious injury,  the anticipated widespread destruction has obviously occurred in many towns and communities. Apocalyptic is one word being used to sum up the scene at Mission Beach. “Nothing’s been spared. The devastation is phenomenal, like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” a veteran of at least five cyclones told the ABC.  Cairns and Townsville, where thousands spent a very long, nervous night in powerless evacuation centres, appear to have been spared any serious structural damage, and worst-case scenarios about damaging storm surges. However I note in Townsville [the city where I went through a cyclone back in 1971] has suffered flooding in some parts, and now faces a serious water shortage issue due to contamination and damage of the water supply. While in Tully, just inland from Mission Beach, is among the worst hit with roofs torn from homes, and banana and cane crops decimated.  Cassowary Coast Councillor and Tully resident Ross Sorbello said there were scenes of mass devastation in the town.

Major General Peter Cosgrove, who led the recovery effort after Cyclone Larry, said the main priority must be counting heads.  “It’s particularly important in rural communities where you have farmers that are isolated. Emergency workers have to make sure people are safe,” he told the Nine Network.  The premier said a major logistical task was now looming, initially to free up evacuation centres for people whose homes had been hit, and then to rehouse those people. “We don’t know the extent of it yet, but we are planning for a very significant homelessness problem, for potentially, you know, several thousand people,” she said.

On another front, as indicated earlier, Australia has lost another soldier in Afghanistan, our 22nd death since the launch of operations in 2001, and the first for 2011. Corporal Richard Edward Atkinson, 22, a member of the Darwin-based 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, died in the explosion of an insurgent improvised explosive device (IED) about 9.30am Afghanistan time on Wednesday. Another Australian soldier was seriously wounded. He was treated at the scene then flown by US helicopter to the hospital at the main base at Tarin Kowt. He is now in a satisfactory condition.  This was Corporal Atkinson’s first deployment to Afghanistan but he had previously assisted in Operation Padang Assist, a humanitarian mission to Indonesia following the 2009 earthquake. Both soldiers, members of the Australian Mentoring Task Force (MTF-2) were participating in a foot security patrol with the Afghan National Army at the time of the incident. The incident occurred in the Tangi Valley near Deh Rahwod, about 30 kilometres west of Tarin Kowt – the same area where Australia’s last fatality occurred and a known insurgent hotspot.

Of course the other world hot spot [amongst many] at the present time is over in Egypt, and I was disturbed at the recent news from Cairo that partisans of President Hosni Mubarak had  stormed a crowded anti-regime rally in central Cairo, sparking pandemonium in which at least 500 people were hurt and one killed, witnesses say. Pictures on the TV tonight showed participants from both sides sending vollies of stones across the crowds, while we saw the unusual sight reminiscent of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ where I believe supporters of the present regime charged into the crowds on horses and camels. At this point it appears that the military have not taken sides, merely trying to maintain some semblance of peace. The real concern I think will be created when and if the army forces decide they have to ‘stand’ on the side of the government [or vice versa]. If not already serious, there is potential for the situation in Egypt to become quite critical. Now there are reports of western journalists being targeted and attacked, and robbed of their camera equipment, etc by pro-government supporters – presumably being upset at the truth of the situation there being revealed to the world!! Tension had been rising from early morning when Mubarak supporters began staging their own rallies around Cairo, saying the president represented stability amid growing insecurity, and branding as “traitors” those who want his departure.  Reports I read, indicated that they also gathered for a rally near the square, where thousands of anti-regime supporters pressed on with demands the 82-year-old president step down immediately. Not satisfied with Mubarak’s insistence late on Tuesday that he would serve out the rest of his term and ignoring army appeals for them to go home, the protesters vowed to stay in the square until he left. Witnesses and reporters said bands of Mubarak supporters raided the square early afternoon without warning, some on camels and horses, creating mayhem that quickly degenerated into violent clashes.

Meanwhile, on the ‘home front’ news of a more pleasant nature – at our radio committee meeting tonight, it was wonderful to see our Station Manager, who has been seriously ill [almost to the  point of death] over the past couple of months, come to the meeting, and as his recovery process and health continues to improve, he has plans to be back on air with his regular programs within a couple of weeks. Tonight’s meeting also included some discussion about the excellent article that appeared in this week’s local paper, promoting the station, and hopefully bringing it into the public’s mind within the local community more than recent surveys have indicated. I intend to transcribe that article over the next day or so.



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