A frantic call from the eye of the storm

HAMMERTIME

It was rather tough adjusting after coming back from holidays last week, and then all of a sudden we got a call from our youngest son, Andrew, who is working at Innisfail in the Queensland, Australia area.

On a somewhat noisy and time delayed conversation he informed us that he and his buddies were being moved into a large cement emergency shelter (a church) because of the impending onslaught of a powerful cyclone called Yasi. “I will call you when I can, but please try not to worry,” was his short pay phone message. Needless to say, for the next 48 hours we anxiously watched the national news, prayed for the safety of all of them, and didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.

As you already know, early Thursday morning Australia’s biggest cyclone in 100 years hit the northeast coastline packing 290 km/h winds, devastating several towns in its horrific path, and cutting power to some 175,000 people. Officials have now claimed that the strong early public warnings, evacuations, and good planning, as well as a sudden southward direction change in the storm likely saved much of the region from catastrophic destruction, with only one reported death to date.

Yasi’s size and power did however dwarf Cyclone Tracy, which hit the northern Australian city of Darwin in 1974, killed 71 people, and flattened more than 90 per cent of the homes and buildings in its path. This 2011 storm was also twice the size and far stronger than the category 4 Cyclone Larry, which caused $1.5 billion of damage in the very same area in 2006.

Yes, he did finally phone, stating that they were all safe, and still huddled in that same church, sharing sandwiches, coffee, and a whole lot of soul-searching and relief. Andrew claimed that during the height of the storm around midnight, that it sounded like several jets were flying back and forth over the building, and then there was a totally eerie silence. “All of those people, young and old, were very scared, but we stayed upbeat and very supportive of each other during the entire ordeal, even though many of them may have lost their homes, belongings, and livelihood.’

The aftermath of the storm for several days has included heavy winds, thunderstorms, and torrential rains, which will only add to the flooding and destruction that they had suffered only a few weeks before in the same area, which is a hot-spot for mining, agriculture, and tourism. Ninety per cent of the small nearby town of Tully was extensively damaged, while throughout the area from the shore and moving inland is a horrible mess of destroyed homes, buildings, power lines, vehicles, farms, bridges, crops, trees, boats, and everything in its path.

Despite all that devastation and desperation, apparently the spirits of the populace remains high, and although still reeling from the aftermath, they maintain a strong hope that they will soon be able to get on with the formidable task of rebuilding their homes, their livelihood, and their lives from what now looks like a ‘war zone.’ There is no doubt that their government and the rest of the world will work together to assist the people as they always do after a disaster, but we must all be very thankful that they most of these hardy souls managed to survive.

All our family can say is thank goodness for the magic of cellphones and IPods, with tribute to that great nation down under who make visitors from other countries feel so very welcome and a part of their bright future and keen hospitality, no matter what.

We must not forget Valentine’s Day

Whether it be a romantic or mushy card, a box of chocolates, a phone call, new wardrobe, exotic evening or holiday, or whatever else, please don’t forget to send that unique and personal message to your wife, your husband, your honey, your classmate, your teacher, or a special friend just in time for Valentine’s Day, Monday, Feb. 14.

Here a few Valentine’s Day memories.

• All of us will remember grade school, when we cut out a bunch of hearts and sent them to the entire class, girls and boys. We made sure that the biggest card went to our sweetie, current crush, or the mate that you would like to share for the future.

• Here’s to love among all age groups — the only fire for which there is no insurance. Through the heat of the Valentine’s Day occasion it’s OK to start thinking about spring already, but please dress warm, plug the car in occasionally, and have a great week, all of you!