Phew… what a week it has been. If you look at an aerial view of Australia, you would see most of the top half of the continent under floodwaters, and much of the southern half on fire. Talk about a country of extremes…
Victoria has been experiencing some of the worst bushfires in history. The authorities are now able to access some of the worst affected areas, and the official death count is rising by the hour as bodies are discovered in burnt out homes. The late news last night told of 60 confirmed deaths. By this morning, that had risen to almost 100, with the grim warning that the toll will continue to rise as search efforts uncover more bodies. A number of those who perished were found in their burnt out cars along bush roads, apparently overcome by the thick smoke as they attempted to flee.
In some other states of Australia, residents would have been forcibly evacuated by the police if their lives were deemed to be in immediate danger. But in Victoria, the law of the land seems to be “your home, your decision”; a law which resulted in many residents staying to protect their homes. In a small number of individual cases, they were successful, using a garden hose to extinguish small spot fires that threatened their property. But you can’t help but wonder how many Australians this morning are wishing that their friends or relatives who were not so fortunate had abandoned their homes and sought safety for themselves before it was too late.
Here in the north, we have very little risk of bushfire at the moment… to put it mildly. The gulf region around Normanton and Karumba has been isolated for weeks, with monsoonal rains turning the vast area into one huge lake. Cairns has already received close to its average February rainfall in just the last eight days. But we have been lucky. There has been little or no flooding here in Cairns. But just a few hours south of here, in parts of the Cassowary Coast, flood waters have caused widespread damage and disruption, and the Bruce Highway has been cut in at least two places.
One can only assume that all the firefighters from North Queensland would head to Victoria at the moment to help with the battle down there, maybe leaving just one person in each fire station to answer the phones and polish the helmets.
Here in Cairns, life goes on pretty much as normal. Apart from the first two days of the month, when all reef trips were cancelled due to rough weather, we have been quite busy with our Digital Underwater Camera rentals. In spite of the fact that tourists have been unable to get here from the south by road, I saw a ‘no vacancy’ sign on one of the Cairns Backpackers Hostels just a couple of days ago.
This morning, we are bathed in bright sunshine. Tonight, we may be in for another storm. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? This is the tropics after all, and tropical weather comes with the territory! The funny thing is that a day of torrential rain here in town can often be a sunny day out on the Great Barrier Reef, as many a tourist discovers to their delight.