Across Continents

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Longest night

Darkened city. A few street lights. Much of Cairns without power. The occasional bright flash casting an eerie glow across the suburbs. Sub-stations we thought. A few hours before Cyclone Yasi would peak. Wind gusts growing rapidly in strength. Ever more deafening. The lulls between them shortening with equal speed.

I’d been joined by Rowan, Paul and Yuki from the hostel I’d been staying in. Peering over the solid hotel balcony. A few trees blown over. Relentless pounding. Into the early hours. Mesmerizing.

On the street below a young woman. Backpacker we thought. Struggling along an otherwise deserted Lake Street towards the centre of Cairns. Beyond our reach. Barely able to hear each other. Hoping she found shelter.

By morning a clearer picture emerging. Trees down, much of the city without power, mobile communications intermittent. But, fortunately, relatively minor damage. Not the devastation we’d feared. A little further south – just a few miles – a different story. Roads blocked. Significant damage to property. Communications disrupted. Possibly for days. Maybe longer.

Destructive winds had passed by. But the risk of tidal surge lingered until the morning high tide had subsided. Waves lapping the Esplanade. And then the rains. Torrential. Throughout the afternoon. Into the evening. Yasi’s parting shot. Ground already saturated. Flash flooding a real possibility.

During the day a gradual return to normality on the streets. Slow start. People tired, jaded. Hasty preparations, little sleep. Catching up with them. Stories emerging. A baby born in one of Cairns’s evacuation centres. A shopping centre. Home to a few thousand people. The toilets soon pretty grim. But everyone safe.

It had been a stoic affair. For the most part pretty ordered. Good humoured. Couldn’t help noticing that fridge in the hotel room was hard wired into the emergency generator supply. But not the wall sockets. So no tea or coffee. Just cold beer.

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