North Queensland cyclone roundup

More pictures here

As I was born and bred in Innisfail, this story had more than the usual interest for me. I in fact remember well living through a similar cyclone in Innisfail when I was about 11.

By way of background it may be worth noting that all North Queensland houses have long been built to be cyclone resistant. Roofs are screwed down and the roof frame is bolted to the house. And the house is bolted to the stumps on which it is set and the stumps in turn are both deep-set in the ground and braced to withstand lateral force. So while many houses were damaged, most stayed intact enough to protect their occupants. The lack of deaths was certainly no accident.

I reproduce below comments from three different writers on the matter

Nobody killed in big Queensland blow

The devastation Hurricane Katrina caused in the United States probably helped save lives in Queensland's cyclone ravaged north, an expert said today. No-one was killed or suffered serious injuries despite the ferocious nature of category five Cyclone Larry, the most powerful cyclone to hit Australia in decades. However, Larry, which made landfall yesterday, destroyed homes, uprooted trees, downed powerlines, and ruined banana and cane crops in and around the town of Innisfail, which bore the brunt of its fury.

Professor Tom Hardy, a cyclone expert with the Australian Maritime College, said it was amazing that no-one was killed. He said the experience of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama last August and killed more than 1000 people, probably helped save north Queenslanders' lives. "I think that the big hurricanes in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico this last year made people realise 'Oh my gosh, that can happen here'," Prof Hardy said today. "Whereas if this happened a year ago, I think there would have been a few people (asked to evacuate) who would've said 'No, I'm just going to stay here, I've lived here for 20 years and nothing's happened'.

"New Orleans got whacked but I think Innisfail maybe learned a little bit about that." Prof Hardy said a combination of better building standards and warning systems also probably contributed to a lack of casualties. He said most north Queenslanders would have been unaware of what to expect from Cyclone Larry after decades of relatively minor cyclones. "I think we did a damn good job of being prepared for it because no-one died, and the damage will be something that we can recover from," he said.


Technologically Advanced, Modern Economy, Survives Category 5 Cyclone without a Single Fatality

An interesting comparison below lifted from Jennifer Marohasy

A category 5 cyclone, more severe than Cyclone Tracy or Hurricane Katrina, lashes Far North Queensland and there is not a single fatality. It perhaps says something about Australia, modern economies and democracies and their potential capacity to adapt and to survive? Congratulations Far North Queensland! When we were less technologically advanced, that is on 10th March 1918 and a severe cyclone hit Innisfail, over 80 people died. Following is the note in the Bureau of Meterology records for that event:

"This cyclone is widely regarded as the worst cyclone to hit a populated area of Queensland. It crossed the coast and passed directly over Innisfail. Pen on Post Office barograph was prevented from registering below 948 hPa by flange on bottom of drum. 926 hPa read at the Mourilyan Sugar mill at 7 pm 10 Mar. The eye wall reached Innisfail at 9 pm. In Innisfail, then a town of 3,500 residents, only around 12 houses remained intact the rest being blown flat or unroofed. A report from the Harbours and Marine Engineer indicated that at Maria Creek the sea rose to a height of about 3m above high water (If this refers to HAT the water was 4.65m above the tide for that day). Around 4.40pm 10 Mar at Bingil Bay a tidal wave was seen surging in from the east into Bingil Bay taking the bridge over the creek 400 m inland. Mission Beach was covered by 3.6 m water for hundreds of metres inland, the debris reached a height of 7m in the trees. All buildings and structures were destroyed by the storm surge in the Bingil Bay Mission beach area. The surge was 2.6m at Flying Fish Point. Babinda also had many buildings destroyed and some reports suggest that not one building was left standing. There was widespread damage at Cairns and on the Atherton Tablelands. Recent reports suggest that 37 people died in Innisfail while 40 to 60 (mostly aborigines) lost their lives in nearby areas."

The lessons of cyclone Larry

Comment by Benny Peiser below noting that the North Queensland experience is great evidence of how technologically advanced societies can cope very well with even very dangerous natural changes and events:

Throughout human history, natural disasters such as cyclones and hurricanes have had devastating impacts on human life and societies. Until fairly recently, tens of thousands of people around the world were killed each year as a result of tropical mega-storms. Although it is technically impossible, for the time being, to completely neutralise the damage tropical storms bring with them, it is possible, as a result of effective disaster warning and preparedness to significantly reduce the potential risks to human life, infrastructure and the economy.

Disaster warning systems have become essential social mechanisms in the forecast, detection and mitigation of natural disasters. People exposed to natural hazards are increasingly relying on the effectiveness of warning systems. They are most effective for natural catastrophes that develop gradually and relatively slowly, such as floods or tropical cyclones. In 1991, for example, 600,000 people in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh were evacuated in advance of a tropical cyclone, thus minimising the number of fatalities to just over a thousand. 13 years earlier, in comparison, over 10,000 people were killed in a similar cyclone that transpired without any warning. The significant decline in storm-related deaths since 1950 has been attributed to improvements in tornado-warning systems.

The experience with Cyclone Larry only underlines this encouraging development. As Jennifer Marohasy points out above, Cyclone Larry, the strongest cyclone to have hit Australia in almost 100 years, has produced not a single fatality. Cyclone Larry demonstrates that technologically advanced, open societies which develop disaster early warning strategies and effective planning that provides resilience to such disasters can reduce the risks to human life to almost zero. The key lesson of Cyclone Larry is simple: Human adaptation, effective disaster planning, social resilience and proper insurance cover are beginning to transform tropical mega-storms from devastating human catastrophes into managable nuicances.


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