Photographers' Blog

My date with Yasi

February 3, 2011

So, I was sitting on a plane flying from Sydney to a town called “Townsville” before I had a moment to consider that I was going north to intercept a huge cyclone, try and hide somewhere in the middle of it and stick my head up and start shooting as soon as it passed over me. In the end I was fully equipped, located and psyched to deal with a storm “roughly the size of Italy” but it was cyclone Yasi that blinked first.

When the decision was made to go I had 60 minutes before leaving for the airport. Photographers talk about a “go bag” or how they have a permanent disaster kit next to the front door or that they’re such legends, who have covered an untold number of natural disasters, everything they need is burned on their memory. I have a list. I have a number of lists but I still stand in the middle of the lounge room asking my wife what I have forgotten. She always comes up with something. Surprisingly, the flight (the very last one to this impending natural disaster before the destination airport closed) was packed. On it were a few other media types but also a bunch of paramedics, emergency workers and prison guards all going for the same reason.

Local resident Selwyn Hughes (C) sits with his daughter Roseanne, 13, outside an emergency cyclone shelter after it was declared full and the gate locked in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

First stop for my text and TV colleagues and I was the first gas station we found still trading as we headed still further north to Cairns – right into the path of the cyclone. Just about everything was closed with taped up windows or boarded up doors. We netted $250 worth of bottled water and the kind of food you’d only ever buy at a gas station.

A hand painted board protects the front window of a cafe in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

After an early morning arrival and 60 minutes sleep, I was off into the approaching turmoil. With cameras wrapped in covers and an underwater housing I loitered around the Cairns waterfront for hours after the cyclone was due to arrive and shot the now empty city. Locals came to have a look for the approaching storm. Tourists came to look for it too. One man came and cooked a barbecue. Another celebrated his 50th birthday with beer in the light rain. Night fell, I went to bed and slept soundly with the balcony door wide open.

A local resident cooks himself a barbeque on the waterfront as he waits for the arrival of Cyclone Yasi in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011.   REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Yasi changed course 150kms (93 miles) to the south and the country’s biggest storm in a century slammed into the sugar town of Tully. It looked like it had been visited by a giant with a brushcutter.

A house lies in ruins after Cyclone Yasi passed the northern Australian town of Tully February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

A mailbox lies on the ground next to a destroyed house in the northern Australian town of Innisfail February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

So, in the end this truly monstrous storm, packing 300 km per hour (186 mph) winds, shredded huge trees, flung hundreds of roofs across the landscape, brought half the country to a halt but didn’t kill or maim a single soul. It has however been the cause of some very expensive bananas…

A banana plantation lies in ruin near the northern Australian town of Innisfail February 3, 2011.   REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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