My date with Yasi
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…