Saturday, March 10, 2007


About thirty years ago I was in Port Hedland on business when a cyclone hit. In the time it took for my clerk and me to fly from Perth the cyclone was upgraded to a yellow alert and quickly after to a red alert. I was impressed at the time at the efficient steps taken by the local officials to ensure the safety of all in the town. Federal, State and local government staff were scouring the streets to ensure that all debris was removed or secured and that all inhabitants were safely housed. We spent a day in the motel (fortunately located in South Hedland and so not right on the coast) with winds howling round us except for when the eye of the cyclone passed over. The gales were so intense that trees were bent over to the ground and the motel swimming pool had waves about a metre high. The bar was opened at about 10:00 am and the more intrepid or intoxicated spent some hours body surfing from one end of the pool to the other ending up on the pool's concrete surrounds and sporting an impressive array of grazes as a result. Compared with Tracy (which destroyed Darwin) the damage was minimal and there were no deaths or injuries.

I have considerable sympathy for the residents of Port Hedland as a result but I am forced to wonder why in, a time when governments and employers are supposedly much more aware than they were thirty years ago, we have construction camps destroyed and lives lost when we have had well over a hundred years of experience of these annual, natural events. In Port Hedland thirty years ago they had a well devised action plan and carried it out (and this was before Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin). Why do communities (however temporary) not have the same ability to protect their residents now?

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