Monday 21 March 2011



by Mat Churchill

Cyclone evacuation facilities in Douglas are inadequate. That's the overwhelming message from around 94% of respondents to a poll run by The Newsport over the last few days.

And many others, including a reader from the UK, have taken the time to raise their concerns with comments on the article 'Yasi - what have we learnt' (Monday 14 March).

One reader was worried about the lack of a safe place to seek refuge, not just in the event of a cyclone, but also if a tsunami hit the coast.

"…WHERE is the safety for the locals, WHERE do we keep the safety of our tourists, why is a safety place such secret business. I guess at the end of the day what (used) to be our safe place is now no longer a safe place. REALLY do we have one????? Have we considered ALL aspects not just CYCLONE but also TSUNAMI. Come on guys this is 2011, how do we protect oursleves (sic), in Port Douglas or in Cairns cuz really nobody has a TRUE strategy in place and a TRUE safe place…"

Another called on the State Government to build an evacuation centre in Port Douglas or Mossman, claiming the sports complex in Mossman was unsatisfactory during Cyclone Yasi.

"…The sports centre had No Power, No Cooking facilities…we do not live in a third world country and deserve better treatment from our state goverment (sic), lets get together and make sure all our residents of our shire have somewhere safe to go before the next big scare, it will come one day."

Member for Cook, Jason O'Brien, said Yasi won't be a one-off for the State with more ferocious storms expected as climate change takes hold.

"Yasi really showed us the destructive power we are likely to experience from big cyclones," he said. "My view is that in the near term we can consider a number of alternatives for shelter - for example by looking at buildings around town that might be suitable as an emergency shelter.
"The new multi-purpose building at the primary school may be something that we could work with - can it be upgraded to meet our needs? Are there other buildings that might be useable? The other thing that Yasi has taught us is that in the future no building and its services and utilities are going to be 100 percent safe.
"The fact is that man-made climate change means an increasing number of storms, and bigger and more powerful ones, each cyclone season. Therefore we have to re-think our safety strategies. That is what I am doing myself."

Mr O'Brien said early evacuation should also be a focus for people in the firing line.
"As well as looking for better shelter, we should also be increasingly looking at early evacuation. The experience of the smaller communities around Townsville was that evacuation was really the only 100% safe option.
"This is especially true with older people and families with young children. But the decision about evacuation has to be made early. Leaving that decision to the last minute can be just as dangerous as staying."

"We all know only too well that Port Douglas is a very low-lying area. The effects of massive cyclonic rainfall followed by weeks of heavy wet season rain, as is still being experienced around Tully, Mission Beach and Cardwell, could result in our town being very severely affected.
"That's why I will be considering all options for my family, including early evacuation, next time round."

Mayor Val Schier said The Newsport Poll, which simply asked "Are the cyclone evacuation facilities in Douglas adequate", provided valuable feedback for the Council.

"It's great to get this feedback and we will be investigating other possible locations for evacuation centres that are out of the storm surge zones and have the required access to toilets, power source, catering and the like.

"I understand Education Queensland has indicated they will be looking at how school halls might be able to be upgraded.

"Cyclone Yasi has been a big learning experience for us and Council, along with other agencies, is looking at ways to improve preparation and response in the case of a future event.

"But the bottom line is that everyone should have their own cyclone plan - and that includes having friends in high places so that evacuation centres are only used as a last resort.  It also includes identifying centres where people can take their pets."

A spokesperson for the Council said that a post-Yasi review is currently being undertaken and the public will be informed of the results.

"Cairns Regional Council is in the process of reviewing its preparation, mitigation and responses to disaster events. This includes reviewing the evacuation strategy to identify more shelters and provide more direction and information to people preparing for a natural disaster.

"In particular, more detailed storm surge information will be made available on the website and every household will have a notice in the electricity meter box indicating the height of the premises above sea level. There will be public awareness campaigns and information booklets made available as the strategy is progressed."

The final word goes to Liz Perriam who commented on The Newsport article '100 year storm remembered' (Tuesday 15 May).

"From my short observation, it would seem Port Douglas is no better prepared today for a cyclone than it was 100 years ago. Messages to evacuate but no advice to where is really disconcerning (sic). What has changed or been put in place since YASI?"

Reporter's comment: Early evacuation is fine, but from what I can recall in the lead up to Yasi is that at one stage we were told to head South (by whom I can't remember). With reports of airfares soaring, the only other option would have been to drive which could very well have put us where Yasi eventually reached landfall.