Sunday, November 10, 2013

Recovery from cyclone Yasi

[Michele]  It is a bit glaring that we haven't yet written about the recovery of the Mission Beach area from cyclone Yasi two years ago.  The effects of the cyclone that hit this region in Feb of 2011 are deep, ubiquitous and long lasting.  So why haven't we written about it yet, eh?

Ok, Ok I will give it a go though I'm still learning more all the time about the lingering effects of the cyclone.
This satellite image shows the massive size of cyclone
Yasi as it approaches the Australian coast. 

First some facts: Yasi was a category 5 (Australian scale) cyclone when it made landfall on 3 February, 2011.  On the Saffir-Simpson scale it was a category 4 (recent hurricane Sandy was a category 2). The eye of the storm passed right over South Mission Beach, where we are currently living.  Wikipedia reports that in Mission Beach wind speeds were estimated to be as high as 290 km/hr (180 mi/hr).  Imagine trees in this kind of wind.  Now imagine rooftops blowing off of buildings and debris flying around.  Horrifying! Storm surge reached 7 m (23 feet), which is less than was predicted.  Even still, most of the beach had lost its sand and every building was impacted (wikipedia).  

The storm was huge - see image. When it travelled inland, it dumped so much water on the interior deserts of western Queensland that global see levels dropped.  Yasi along with a few other Australian storms that year produced so much rain in the interior basins that sea level lowered 7 mm for a while.  Rather than quickly flowing to the sea these waters were trapped in the basins until they evaporated. (
We took this picture of the rainforest
in 2011 just 6 months after Yasi.

In July of 2011 we visited Mission Beach for a week and wrote a blog about our observations then.
Reading that blog now makes me cringe a little.  At the time, we believed that Mission Beach would eventually recover to its pre-Yasi state. Now, I'm not so sure.

$3.6 billion in damages were reported making this the most expensive cyclone to hit Australia.  What is remarkable about that figure is this area is sparsely populated. If the cyclone had hit farther north to Cairns or farther south to Townsville the sum of damages would be staggering.

An empty apartment building
damaged by cyclone Yasi
has not been repaired. 
For Mission Beach and Tully (town 20 min inland from the beach) the lasting effects of the cyclone include closed store fronts, empty houses and continued construction to damaged structures.  Many people moved away either because they had enough of cyclones or because their jobs were gone.

For Mission Beach the closure of the Dunk Island resort seems to have had the largest impact on the community.  The 160-room resort on an island 4 km off the coast was very popular holiday destination.  For $200-$300 per night you could stay at a beautiful resort on a tropical island.  This drew tourists to drive 2 hours south from Cairns rather than to the posh Port Douglas just 20 min north of Cairns.   Dunk Island resort was often fully booked in the winter months.  We never stayed there overnight but we enjoyed day visits to the beautiful resort to go snorkeling at Muggy Muggy beach.  The resort sustained a lot of damage including roofs blown off and walls ripped off. The staff who sheltered there during the storm give horrifying accounts of the storm passing over them and sounding like jet engines.  The upshot two years later is that the resort owner has no plans to reopen the Dunk Island resort because the insurance costs are too high. As a consequence all those tourists are no longer coming through Mission Beach.  Without the tourists, the shops and services decline which further deters tourists.  For example, you can no longer scuba dive on the reef out of Mission Beach, you have to go to Cairns.
Dunk Island resort in July 2013. Note blown off roof
and ripped walls. The owner sees no point in making repairs.

The town has seen some temporary economic relief in terms of re-construction projects.  For example, we got to watch progress on construction of a new sea wall this winter/fall along our favorite track.  This project and the new jetties at Dunk Island and Clump point are now complete. With these construction jobs coming to an end we may see further stress on the local economy. Belt tightening across Queensland and Australia doesn't help this situation.

The rainforest is recovering with very dense vegetation at the
ground level and a sparse canopy.  Gavin wanted very
badly to get into this photo as you can see.
When we visited in 2011 our focus was on the effects of Yasi on the rainforest.  The trees were completely denuded of leaves in the cyclone.  Now the trees have green up but the rainforest is recovering. Because the canopy is very sparse, the rainforest is overly dense at the ground level.  It will take a few decades for the forest to reach a mature state again but it progresses.  Birds have come back and the Cassowary seem to be doing well.  We've seen a lot of them.... except when Betsy was here and when Grandma Lorna was in the car.

I know that the rainforest will recover but I don't know what the future holds for Mission Beach.  It is still a remarkably beautiful and laid back place.  I hope that tourists will continue to come here for the atmosphere and to look for cassowaries.

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