The storm affect – a strange 24 hours in Queensland
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The storm affect – a strange 24 hours in Queensland

We might be thousands of kilometres away from Cyclone Yasi in Brisbane but everyone has been tense over the last 24 hours.

It probably didn’t help that yesterday was one of those stifling hot days you get here in summer. But it seemed to be amplified by an almost electrified apprehension.

Televisions and radios were on all day everywhere. It was the only thing we could think of, talk of, worry about.

It was with incredible misgivings we went to bed last night, knowing thousands of people were basically riding a storm out that could change their lives and homes forever.

As soon as I was conscious this morning the radio and television were back on – I’m guessing many did the same in thousands of households across the nation.

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This image provided by NASA shows Tropical Cyclone Yasi as it approaches Queensland, Australia, Wednesday Feb. 2. Pic: AP.

With reports coming in of the devastation to the north, while possibly not as severe as initially anticipated, it’s still absolutely heartbreaking – crops wiped out, telecommunications down, power out in more than 91,000 homes, marinas destroyed, communities flattened.

It’s particularly hard when we’ve already had weeks of this and that communities hit by Cyclone Larry in 2006 are now battling it again. We weren’t expecting it to get any worse.

Having just come through a crisis ourselves here in Brisbane, there was certainly a better understanding of how people might be holding up in the north.

Last night I had friends around, one whom has family in Ingham, 110km north of Townsville. He’d spent the afternoon on the phone to his relatives up there who were all bunkering down for the night. They’d done what they could to secure the house, had dressed in rain gear in case the roof blew off and were going to huddle under a mattress overnight.

His greatest concern was probably for his ageing father and not being able to contact them once phone lines failed.

Once they left I watched some of “Inside the Firestorm: one year on” on the ABC about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009. I’m not sure if the ABC had deliberately timed the broadcast of this documentary into the lives of survivors of the fire this week, but it seemed a rather uncanny coincidence on the eve of what was billed as the biggest storm to hit the country in living memory.

There was a woman on the program describing what it was like in the middle of a crisis. She reported largely what many of us experienced a few weeks ago: no emotion, no fear, you just do what has to be done. It’s different once the crisis is over obviously.

I’m sure the people of north Queensland have been doing just that – doing what has to be done – and those in communities as far west as the Northern Territory as they brace for continued damage from Yasi.

The thing about all these disasters is that they affect all Australians, it’s not just the communities immediately affected although obviously the experience is not quite the same. But it’s why you already have people promising to go and help up in north Queensland. Or why people rallied here in the south east during the floods with people driving up from across the border in New South Wales and as far south as Sydney. Why my brother in Spain rang repeatedly on our mobiles to get updates on the floods and friends abroad in Thailand didn’t leave their hotel rooms during the crisis so they could follow TV reports.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is not a Queenslander and therefore not as inspiring as our own premier when it comes to voicing the concern of the nation but it was nice to hear her saying, “In the days and hours beyond this cyclone we will be with you on the ground making a difference. The people of Australia will be there to help the people of far north Queensland through.”