Terror, ruin but no deaths in huge Australia storm

Cyclone Yasi causes massive damage and anxiety but claims no lives in Australia

Topics: Natural Disasters, Hurricanes,

Terror, ruin but no deaths in huge Australia stormA man works to repair damage to the roof of his house while his dogs inspect a fallen tree in Kamma, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, after Cyclone Yasi brought heavy rain and howling winds gusting to 186 mph (300 kph). The massive cyclone struck northeastern Australia early Thursday, tearing off roofs, toppling trees and cutting electricity to more than 170,000 people, the most powerful storm to hit the area in nearly a century. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) (Credit: AP)

First came the terrifying roar, then a violent bang like something had exploded. “We gotta go!” David Leger screamed to his father as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in Australia tore the roof off their home, sucking the air up and out of the room like a vacuum.

Leger and his parents scrambled down the staircase, but the house shook violently, sending 83-year-old Francis Leger tumbling down the stairs. The family finally made it to a small room on the ground floor, where they rode out the ferocious storm that slammed into the already flood-ravaged Queensland state Thursday.

“We’re just thankful,” David Leger said later as he slogged across the drenched carpet of their ruined home, water pooling around his sandaled feet. “This is only material.”

Residents and officials were amazed and relieved that no one was reported killed by the monstrous Cyclone Yasi, which roared across northern Queensland with winds up to 170 mph (280 kph). Tidal surges sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, several small towns directly under Yasi’s eye were devastated and hundreds of millions of dollars of banana and sugarcane crops were shredded.

Officials said lives were spared because, after days of increasingly dire warnings, people followed instructions to flee to evacuation centers or bunker themselves at home in dozens of cities and towns in Yasi’s path.

Hundreds of houses were destroyed or seriously damaged, and the homes of thousands more people would be barely livable until the wreckage was cleared, officials said. Piles of drenched mattresses, sodden stuffed animals, shattered glass and twisted metal roofs lay strewn across lawns in the hardest-hit towns.

The region is considered a tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but whether the storm caused damage to the reef was not yet known. Experts say that cyclones can cause localized reef damage as they cross over and that under normal circumstances they will recover.

Yasi began weakening after it came ashore early Thursday. But it was still strong enough to threaten flooding late in the day in the Outback town of Mount Isa, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) inland.

It was a terrifying night for thousands who waited out the storm in their darkened houses. Sandy Haratsis was fighting off a panic attack as she lay on a mattress between her daughters’ beds listening to the cyclone rage outside. The two-story wood house was shaking, and she was worried about the roof.



Suddenly, a bang rang out, followed by a whoosh. Her daughters screamed as raindrops began falling onto them through the ceiling. The roof was peeling away.

“That’s it! Downstairs!” Haratsis shouted at her daughters and her 69-year-old mother Verna Kohn. They fled to a small ground floor room and spent the night sitting in a tight cluster on a bed of pillows, listening to the radio and praying the house would hold up.

“It was eerie and whistling and whirling and popping and girls screaming,” Kohn recalled Thursday as she stood inside her waterlogged home.

Everything was drenched: the furniture, the carpet, her floral curtains, the stacks of hand-sewn quilts she’d spent years carefully crafting. On the ground floor, water dripped through the ceiling into saucepans and buckets scattered about. Half her roof had been torn away and the windows ripped off. A neighbor’s palm tree lay across her yard.

The disaster zone was north of Australia’s worst flooding in decades, which swamped an area in Queensland state the size and Germany and France combined and killed 35 people during weeks of high water until last month.

But the storm added to the state’s woes, and was sure to add substantially to the estimated $5.6 billion in damage since late November. The government has already announced a special tax nationwide to help pay for the earlier flooding.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said several thousand people would be temporarily homeless, and Red Cross Australia and local governments were registering people in need and finding places to house them.

It would take days to make a proper assessment of the damage, and fatalities could yet emerge.

“It’s a long way to go before I say we’ve dodged any bullets,” Bligh said.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said initial assessments were that more than 280 houses were damaged in the three hardest-hit towns, and crews were unable to reach at least four others, so the tally would certainly rise.

Australia’s huge, sparsely populated tropical north is battered annually by about six cyclones — called typhoons throughout much of Asia and hurricanes in the Western hemisphere. Building codes have been strengthened since Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 in one of Australia’s deadliest natural disasters.

“This was the worst cyclone this country has experienced, potentially, for 100 years, and I think that due to very good planning, a very good response … we’ve been able to keep people safe,” Roberts said.

Still, signs of devastation were everywhere. The main coastal highway was a slalom course of downed trees and power lines, fields of sugar cane and banana were shredded and flattened, and lush hillside forests were stripped of every leaf.

Rudy Laguna, 53, picked his way through the drenched rubble of a house he owns in Tully. The roof had peeled away, the windows were shattered and what was left of the siding flapped in the wind. He paused on the verandah and looked up at what was once the ceiling — and saw nothing but cloudy sky.

“It’s only timber and fiber,” he said. “As long as no one got hurt, it’s OK.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>