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Cyclone Yasi

Nick Bryant | 07:18 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011

Thank goodness. Many people in Australia would have feared waking up this morning to Hurricane Katrina-style devastation along a stretch of coastline reaching from Townsville to Cairns in northern Queensland. Happily, the trail of destruction was not nearly as bad as predicted or feared. Not for the first time during this floods crisis, officials presented Queenslanders with worst-case scenarios that did not ultimately eventuate. The same was true with the floods in Rockhampton and Brisbane.

Warned to expect the worst storm in Australian history, a category five cyclone with winds nearing 180 miles an hour, the fear was of a significant loss of life. Remarkably, however, there have been no reports as yet of fatalities or even serious injuries. Instead, the story of a baby girl born in an evacuation centre in Cairns as the cyclone thundered overhead - delivered with the assistance of British midwife in Queensland celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary, no less - has become powerfully emblematic. In the early morning hours, it came to symbolise the feeling of profound relief.

Destroyed house in Tully, Queensland on 3 Feb 2011

A string of smaller communities including Innisfail, Cardwell, Mission Beach and Tully have been very badly hit. There, the cyclone winds ripped roofs off houses, wrecked buildings, brought down power lines and palm trees. Many of the region's banana plantations have been wiped out. But the cities of Townsville and Cairnes were largely spared.

Once again, Cyclone Yasi demonstrated the remarkable, round-the-clock stamina of Queensland's emergency services and its leaders. It is strange now to think that the year started in controversy for the state premier, Anna Bligh, who decided to travel to Sydney for New Year's Eve rather than remain in Queensland, where the floods had already reached crisis proportions. Now no one would surely begrudge her a holiday, while they would probably urge her to take it outside of the state.

A few years ago, Queensland got an inordinate amount of free publicity for a clever tourism marketing campaign offering The Best Job in the World - the chance to become a caretaker of a tropical island, and to be paid handsomely for the privilege. For the past month, Anna Bligh has had one of the toughest jobs in the world, and the widespread feeling is that she has risen to the challenge. Certainly, her command of fast-changing situations and her retention of so many facts and figures has been impressive. As for Julia Gillard, I think one of our commenters, Nancy, put it best. Her public pronouncements throughout this crisis have sounded like a primary school teacher reading a sad story to her class. In contrast, Bligh has come across as a natural leader.

We have spent a lot of time talking about the resilience of Queenslanders. There's been talk of Queensland's exceptionalism, not least from Queenslanders themselves. But the fact that Cyclone Yasi passed without loss of life points to their preparedness, as well. Modern buildings are constructed now to withstand category five gusts, and people have the good sense to heed the warnings of officials, first to evacuate when they had the chance and then to hunker down when these towns and cities were in lockdown.

Let us hope that Queenslanders will not be tested again. They, like Anna Bligh and her team, thoroughly deserve a break.


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