Cyclone Yasi, a gigantic storm with 170-mile-per-hour winds, ripped through northeastern Australia last night. It was one of the worst storms ever recorded in Australia. According to Associated Press reports, it was a full Category 5 when it made landfall, and still held together as a Category 1 when it was 500 miles inland. It tore houses to shreds, then dropped an ocean of rain on the wreckage.
The UK Guardian quotes a resident of Tully, a small town in Queensland, reporting “a scene of mass devastation.” Referring to the terrifying Cyclone Larry of five years ago, he said “Larry was just a boy compared to this.”
The economy of Queensland is heavily dependent on agriculture, including bananas, sugar, and rambutan fruit. Growers were just climbing to their feet five years after Larry, and now Yasi has landed a haymaker to their jaws. Some of the devastated orchards will take years to reconstitute.
180,000 homes are said to be without power today, and thousands of suddenly homeless Australians huddle in shelters. The government is still working to assess the economic damage, but one remarkable, and most welcome, statistic has already emerged: apparently, no one was killed by the storm. A couple of missing-persons cases are being investigated, but thus far, the body count stands at zero.
Authorities attribute this wondrous lack of fatalities to excellent advance planning, moving people out of the storm’s path when possible, and getting residents into shelters and bunkers. As Americans learned to our sorrow after Hurricane Katrina, what the authorities do in the final hours before a storm, and how residents respond to emergency instructions, makes all the difference in the world.
Just two days ago, Yahoo Buzz reported massive Internet traffic about Yasi from Australia, calling it “the most life-threatening storm in generations.” Thankfully, the people of Queensland were able to make that an empty threat. As they clear away the wreckage and start putting their lives back together, the world can join them in giving thanks for an incredible blessing.