As Tropical Storm Meari dumped heavy rains on the Philippine capital Manila, causing the cancellation of domestic flights and residents to flee their houses near rivers and low-lying areas, I traveled in the wee hours of June 24 hoping that the rains would not spoil this year’s “Taong Putik” (Mud People) Festival.
My rental SUV smells like a junior high school locker room manned by a chain-cigar-smoking gym instructor and I am standing on the side of the road with my pants and shirt half off cleaning myself with baby wipes and I am itching in areas that are not suppose to itch like that… yeah, I am in the field covering a wildfire.
It can’t be very often that I have the same thought as Prince William, or indeed his fiance Kate Middleton. But after today’s visit to Darwen in northern England I’m sure there was at least one point, as the rain bounced off the pavement, that we were all thinking the same thing; I hope the weather is better than this on the 29th!
The recent floods in eastern Sri Lanka disrupted the lives of more than 1 million people and forced up to 400,000 people to seek refuge in temporary shelters like huts, schools and mosques. Rice crops in the east were devastated. Many fields were flattened by the water that burst through broken dams. Standing water 4 feet deep saturated the fields for days. Much of the rice that remained standing, while it looked healthy, had no grain remaining in it. The worst-affected districts were Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee and these were also regions hit hard by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and decades of separatist conflict which ended nearly two years ago.
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.
Growing up in the Northern Hemisphere, I read the books and saw the film adaptations of books by American writer Jack London. Books such as “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”. Since then I have been fascinated by the North American wilderness, wolves and sled dogs, so when I was offered the chance to follow the ‘Grande Odyssée’ dogsled race, I was overjoyed. I chose to cover the last five stages of the race, which took place in the Haute Maurienne Valley, a remote area close to the Vanoise National Park on the French-Italian border.
“Zhouqu” in Tibetan means the Bailong River, which runs across the once peaceful county. Surrounded by hills, this small settlement was where just over one week ago, a landslide charged through the main street. 1100 people were killed and more than 600 remain missing – who are presumed dead.