Photographers' Blog

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 6, 2011

Cyclone Yasi statistics were impressive, bigger than Katrina that killed more than  1,200 people in 2005, winds of 300 km (186 miles) per hour, more powerful than Cyclone Tracy that hit Darwin in 1974, killing more than  70 people and probably the most powerful in recorded history ever to hit the coast of Australia. The satellite pictures seemed to support all these claims. The expectation of devastation was high. I even began to fret about the claim that the concrete hotel that photographer Tim Wimborne was staying in was actually cyclone-proof. Experts had started to say that  cyclone proof buildings might not be. But Yasi passed and only one poor soul died (asphyxiated in his home by fumes from his own generator), a few homes had their roofs torn off, caravans were swept aside and minimal flooding. The only lasting effect that will hit us all are the increased insurance premiums, devastated banana and sugarcane crops; price rises are promised.

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(Top left) A hand painted board protects the front window of a cafe in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011. Category five Cyclone Yasi, expected to be the most powerful storm to cross Australia's heavily populated east coast in generations, is expected to make landfall late on Wednesday night. Thousands of residents fled their homes and crammed into shelters in northeastern Australia as the cyclone with a 650 km (404 mile) wide front barreled toward the coastline on Wednesday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

(Top right) Cyclone Yasi (top) is seen approaching the coast of Australia, at 2300 GMT on February 1, 2011, while Hurricane Katrina is seen with its outer bands lashing the Gulf Coast of the U.S. a day before landfall, August 28, 2005, in this combo of satellite images created February 2, 2011. Yasi, which has been upgraded to a maximum-strength Category 5 storm, is now moving with winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) per hour and has a 650 km (400 mile) wide front. Yasi's current strength is similar to Hurricane Katrina, which reached maximum Category 5 in the U.S. Gulf before weakening a little as it made landfall near New Orleans, causing altogether approximately 1200 reported deaths.

In Thailand cross border shelling with Cambodia seems designed to distract people from internal politics as the political group known as the "yellow shirts" took to the streets demanding government action. It is still unclear just how many civilians were killed during the exchange, but fighting carried on for at least three days. Sukree's picture of a calm and collected Abhisit studying notes a perfect counter for Damir's angry image of shouting protesters and the pictures from the front line near the disputed 900-year-old temple of Preah Vihear

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(Top left) Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reads a document before a meeting at Government House in Bangkok January 31, 2011. A lawyer of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he had a petitioned the International Criminal Court to launch a preliminary investigation into "potential crimes against humanity" by Abhisit during the "red shirt" anti-government protests in April-May, 2010.  REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

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.

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.

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