Lingering Effects of Cyclone Yasi Worsen Storms

Rebekah Gordon

Cyclone Yasi began as a tropical low throughout Australia, which brought wild storms and flash flooding throughout the northeastern and now southern parts of the continent. Yasi was active over central Australia earlier in the week, with devastating winds and torrential rains bearing down Saturday. Since Yasi, one of the largest-ever cyclones, was tireless for almost a week, residents in the cyclone zones of Melbourne and Victoria state tried strenuously to pick through what was left of their homes.

More than seven inches of rain fell in just a few hours overnight Friday in some of Melbournes’ neighborhoods, with winds gusting up to 80 mph that were constantly heard knocking down trees. Drains were overwhelmed, which caused flash flooding that covered streets and swamped homes as well. The S.E.S. said 84 people were rescued from cars that were stalled in flooded streets or from inundated properties.

Many parts of Australia have suffered a summer of awful weather, including pounding rains across northeastern Queensland State that caused the nation’s worst flooding in decades, killing 35 people and causing an estimated $5.6 billion in damage.

Yasi ripped across the coast near Cairns on Wednesday night, tearing apart dozens of homes and damaging hundreds more, cutting power to tens of thousands of people and flattening millions of dollars worth of crops. Only one death was reported. Residents and officials were amazed the death toll was not higher. The storm thrashed the coast with up to 170 mph (280 kph) winds and sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, as tens of thousands of people huddled in evacuation centers.

The massive surge of water ripped through homes, taking out walls and pushing resident’s belongings into other people’s houses and yards. Along with belongings, electricity, phone service, and plumbing were all cut off from homes as well. Electricity and phone service were gradually being restored, and some 4,000 troops were sent in to help clear roads of downed trees, power lines, and twisted metal roofs torn from homes. Efforts were hampered by drenching rain in many parts of the disaster zone.

Because Australia’s far northeast is sparsely populated, Yasi, despite its size, didn’t hit any major cities as it charged across the continent. But the isolation was making cleanup more difficult, as authorities struggled to reach out-of-the-way towns. The government has warned that the damage from Yasi will significantly add to the damage bill the country is facing because of the floods, but that it is too early to put a figure on the amount.