Cyclone Ita hit Australia yesterday, coming in as a category four storm and crossing the state as a downgraded category one. Still, worries of damage to homes and industries are high, causing Queensland Premier Campbell Newman to return early from his Asian trip with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He has counselled caution and safety measures as Queensland weathers the worst storm in the last three years.
The cyclone made landfall near Cape Flattery and began losing strength the further inland it travels. The cyclone has been moving south towards Cooktown and Cairns. Cooktown has already seen roofs pulled off houses by the winds, which are only expected to intensify as time goes on. At one point in the town, the power was cut, but it is reportedly back on now as residents start moving for shelter. Over 300 people are in the local shelter at this time, though apparently the pubs are also seeing a good turnout for the storm.
Tourists and residents have been evacuated from certain places. Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction. But there will be no snorkeling for any of the tourists who have evacuated the area to stay safe. Not only will there be a lack of tourists to the area, storms have accounted for half of the damage to the reef in the last 27 years. This cyclone could also cause more damage to an already battered reef and a tenuous tourist industry.
The loss in tourist revenue is of concern at this point, as is the loss of profit to agriculture. Premier Newman has already discussed the possible damage to crops, including bananas and sugar. Australia is the third largest exporter of sugar in the world and cyclones like Ita make big dents in profits to that industry. The cattle industry, however, could benefit from the rainfall after droughts forced many cattle ranchers to slaughter record members of animals.
At this time, though, the main focus is on the safety of the people in the storm’s path. When Cyclone Ita went through the Solomon Islands, it left more than 23 people dead in its wake, an unfortunate loss of life. Queensland has been trying to avoid such a toll by strenuously sending the message for people to stay safe. Newman warned specifically that fallen power lines are lethal and that people should stay away from them to stay safe. Community Recovery Minister David Chrisafulli also warned somewhat dramatically that no one should try to be a hero. The message coming from the government at this point emphasizes safety and caution above all else. It seems to be working since there have been no reported deaths in Australia so far.
Aussies are well prepared for large storms, taking all precautions necessary. They have stocked up on water and food in preparation for the storm. News reports include warnings and examples of people boarding up windows and tying down large items like parked boats in driveways. This is not the first storm the hardy Australians have gone through. In 2011 Cyclone Yasi caused losses of about 3.5 billion dollars and much damage. As Queenslanders weather the worst storm in three years, the hope is that there will be a better outcome than last time.
By Lydia Webb