Cyclone Yasi

Townsville, 2 - 3 February 2011

Unfinished email from Jules, with photos below.

Wednesday 2 Feb, a cloudy, breezy early morning in Townsville and it seems quite pleasant weather. But I'm feeling rather like a bandicoot caught in the middle of the highway right in front of a thundering B-double. No, I'm not actually on the highway, thank goodness, but definitely in a bad place relative to a severe tropical cyclone that is racing towards the north Queensland coast.

Actually I'm wishing Jeshan and I were tucked into the dense mangroves behind Port Douglas, where we've sheltered from several previous cyclones over the years. Not this time. This is going to be my first experience of a cyclone on land and likewise for Jeshan. TC Yasi is such a big system that it's expected to hit both Port Douglas, where Jeshan is chocked up in the yard behind the PD yacht club, and Townsville where I am right now, and everywhere in between and beyond in all directions.

Uhhh-ohhhhh, Bureau of Meteorology just upgraded TC Yasi to category 5. Now it's a road train bearing down on all of us little bandicoots frozen in its path.

Image courtesy of Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Having done all I could for Jeshan's safety before driving south to spend two weeks in Townsville (at least that was the plan) to do some uni work, here I am now in this Townsville unit (=apartment) in the midst of totally unfamiliar non-boating cyclone preparations.

I have food for days ahead, torches and batteries, phone on the charger as we will surely lose power. I'm about to fill water bottles and buckets in case water gets cut off later. I've moved every loose thing from outside to inside. Next task is get out spare mattrasses etc for a couple from a yacht in the marina who need a place to stay. No one allowed to stay on board their boats with the cyclone approaching.


Late afternoon now and power still on which is great. Wind howling and debris flying past outside, mostly leaves and small branches. Birds flying with great difficulty. I wish I could give them shelter. The marina people found a better option. They were probably unnerved by the exposed location of this building perched on a hill close to the shoreline. So am I.

Although this apartment complex is a fairly solid concrete block affair it's an old building. And the location is good in being well above potential flooding, but bad location in being wide open to wind blasting in from any direction.

Uh-oh, half of the tree below my window just broke off.

I've taped the windows and moved everything indoors away from windows and outside walls. My sit-tight possie is set up in the middle. I've run a power cord from the single socket that's wired to a separate circuit. When town power fails, this circut can be supplied from a diesel generator down in our carpark. Hopefully it will start when required.


Now it's dark outside, and wild. Can't see much. The windows have a black confetti pattern of shredded vegetation driven by wind and rain. Our power went off ealier - not surprising, lots of trees and branches falling - but amazingly come back on quite quickly. Apart from uneasy thoughts I'm comfortable enough indoors. Hard to write a coherent email though.

I keep switching back and forth between BoM web pages. Port Douglas doens't have a weather station but I can guess what Jeshan is facing from watching the reports from Low Isles. That's offshore from PD and where I have research gear deployed - another worry! Just before 9PM Low Isles is getting 25 to 35 knots from the West, not too bad except for my data loggers on the western side. Townsville Airport has 36 to 56 knots from East-Southeast. I guess we have stronger gusts up here on the hill.


Power went off again and stayed off. Computer had to go off - its battery too old to operate without power supply. For a while I just sat in the dark, listening to the wild buffeting wind.

Then our diesel generator must have started and now I have a little desk light to brighten my sit-tight possie and the laptop on again. Yay, my wireless internet connection is still okay too so I can keep up with what's happening on the automated coastal weather and tide stations. Low Isles has NW 34 to 44 knots, Townsville Aero has ESE 46 to 61 knots. The centre of Yasi is expected to start crossing the coast about Mission Beach during the next hour.

Storm tide monitoring shows hardly any extra height at Newell Beach, the nearest station to Jeshan. Near here at Cape Ferguson there's about 1.6m above normal tide height near here. Very lucky the evening tide was the minor high and tide is falling now. As far as water level is concerned, it would have been far worse to have the centre of Yasi crossing on the much higher morning high tide. But bad it surely is.


Turn on the radio for some company. Nice that ABC Radio National has re-allocated their FM frequency to broadcasting local ABC. Normally the local broadcast is only on AM and I get poor reception here. The local station is good, informative, friendly. But after a short while I have to turn it off. Too loud because of outside noise. No use listening to repeats of the cyclone warning that I already know by heart. Everyone they interview of course can only talk about their worries... all of our worries.

Image courtesy of Australian Bureau of Meteorology

It was long night. Wind lessened in intensity during early dawn (Thursday) but still too wild to go out. Rainy and hard to see much outside. Thankfully our roof stayed on and windows intact. Stuff that I heard hitting must have been small.

Daylight shows my third floor balcony is piled with leaves and twigs. A mash of shredded vegetation is stuck to the walls and even under the balcony ceiling. As far as I can see, surrounding buildings basically intact but bits have come off. Sheets of iron scattered along the road below my window, bits of guttering and facia, street signs and fences down, many trees destroyed.

Below I've added a few pics I took today.

Above: Yasi has passed but it's a bleak view from my windows. Not obvious from this angle but there are broken and uprooted trees everywhere, bits missing from the roof end, even steel poles of the tennis court fence got bent by the wind.

Above: The road below the living room side of my place - similar fallen, broken and bent-over trees are everywhere.

Above: Debris beside the road opposite my balcony.

Above: From the front of our complex I can see the land to the south is inundated by this morning's high tide plus storm surge.

Above: High tide plus storm surge has completely covered the Ross River breakwater with churning seawater, breakers are still crashing over the outer breakwall.

Above: The street below our complex is completely blocked by fallen trees and most roads in the neighbourhood are partly obstructed.

Above: The beach got transported uphill by cyclone-powered waves that left a thick layer of sand covering the walkway along the Strand, the surrounding grass, picnic areas and kids playgrounds and the road behind. Mish and Colleen will remember we strolled along here amidst lawns and lovely trees hung with artistic intstallations during "Strand Ephemera". A forlorn mess now.

Above: Gregory Street intersection at the Strand. The seafood shop on the corner was well boarded up and sand-bagged. Great that the huge fig there is still standing although parts of its wonderful shady canopy were stripped. Sadly a vast number of other lovely trees came down. The photos below are just a small sampling of widespread botanical destruction. I'm so sorry that uncountable birds and other wildlife have lost their homes and much of their livelihood too.

I took all these photos around our neighbourhood on 3 Feb 2011 after TC Yasi had passed the previous night. Now we can expect to remain without some conveniences of city life for several days yet - no town water, no mains power, no internet, no traffic lights, no street lights. The drama has passed but the big clean-up effort is yet ahead. The message scrawled on those cyclone boards still applies: Good luck North Qld!

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