Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Worst jobs…

February 15th, 2011

Don’t decry the difficult task the emergency services face in the midst of a cyclone. Not for a moment. But, for many, their role probably has more appeal than the one a fellow hostel resident undertook. A lot more. Local shopping centre. Hastily turned into an evacuation centre. Couple of thousand people. Nervous. One set of toilets. One cleaner. Stewart. Think you get the picture. No. Worse. Much worse.

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Trouble with telephones

February 14th, 2011

What’s easiest in Australia? Hunt down wild crocodiles at night or find a landline so you can take a call from BBC Somerset’s The Morning Show with Emma Britton? Found eight of the predators the previous evening. Eventually secured one line with a few hours to go. Not easy when you’re a traveller in a nation of mobiles. Key, I’d discovered, is to find a friendly international hotel chain and ask nicely. Explain your predicament.

I’d been quite determined to chat once more to Emma. Refused to believe I couldn’t secure a landline and make it happen. Not in Australia. Besides, rather look forward to the interviews. Feel rather honoured to be allowed to do them live. Trusted, presumably, not to say naughty words or commit other embarrassing faux pax. Not too many ums and arhs. I hope.

And, just in case you’re wondering, I’ve no idea what exactly I’ll be asked on air. Might have a few guesses, but nothing more. All part of the fun. Another challenge on the road. This time intrigued – and absolutely delighted – to hear my own voice in the introduction. Taken from a video clip shot during the height of Cyclone Yasi and posted on the website.

You can listen to the interview courtesy of the BBC iPlayer – just click here – the segment airs about one hour into the St Valentines Day show. Ends with a great Crowded House track.

Right. That’s the easy bit done. Waiting – with anticipation and trepidation in equal measure – for some honest, constructive feedback from an online audience close to my heart. Suffice to say, it might have been my forty #*^ birthday on the day of Cyclone Yasi. But what my parents think still matters as much to me as it ever did!

[Author’s note: Especial thanks of course to Emma Britton and the team at BBC Somerset. And to duty managers Ben, Valentine and Wiremu at Mercure Cairns Harbourside hotel for being so helpful to a perfect stranger and letting me use their landline. Even finding a quiet room to hide away in. The interview with Emma airs between 1hr 03 mins 20 secs and 1hr 11 mins 30 secs into the show. Available on the iPlayer until 21 Feb 11. Please note Ken isn’t responsible for the content of external websites]

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Bored games

February 14th, 2011

Small box. Mementoes mostly. Back to Blighty by sea mail. Three months. And with it the cyclone survival guide I’d picked up in the local library. Didn’t seem much point holding on to it. Reckoned I’d got the check-lists off pat. Only thing missing was something to keep you occupied in the final few hours before the system hits. Seasoned locals favour board games. Monopoly and Scrabble quite popular.

I’d resorted to pacing up and down. Probably to the irritation of others. Could have been worse. Much worse. Might have been forced to take refuge in the relative confines of the windowless bathroom. For I can, a few close and candid friends have suggested, be a little loquacious at times. I like to think of it as wit and repartie. Still, not a huge stretch of the imagination to see others deciding to take their chances in the open. Quieter outside.

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Chainsaws

February 13th, 2011

Forget Categories. Way you judge the size of a cyclone is by the number of chainsaws you hear in that days that follow. A veteran of eight cyclones had suggested they weren’t all bad. Saved on the pruning. And she didn’t mean just trees. Older, less well built or dilapidated homes as well. Thinning out the deadwood. Bit harsh.

Bentsign - web

Cairns narrowly avoided the full force of Yasi. The devastation a little further to the south. Still taken a fair pounding though. Little structural damage. But quite a bit of the city without electricity for several days.

And good luck trying to find fresh produce. Might get lucky with bananas. Only because they’ve trebled in price. Most of the home grown crop just having, quite literally, been flattened. As for anything in a tin…

But we’re not going to starve. And, being first world, it’s not soup kitchens those still without power have been turning to for a square meal. It’s Subway. Just opposite Woolworths. Doing a roaring trade.

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Cyclone Yasi – Rains arrive

February 9th, 2011

Rains arrive from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Late afternoon. Day after Cyclone Yasi. Torrential rains arrive. And with it risk of flash floods.

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Cyclone Yasi – Morning after

February 8th, 2011

Morning after from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Cairns. Northern Queensland. Morning after Cyclone Yasi.

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Cyclone Yasi – Height of the storm

February 7th, 2011

Height of the storm from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes the scene in Cairns, northern Queensland, as Cyclone Yasi passes through.

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Days ahead…

February 6th, 2011

I’d always planned to be in Cairns until around my birthday. One, thanks to Cyclone Yasi, I’m unlikely to forget. For a little while. Seems I may be here for a bit longer. Roads south blocked. Downed trees. Flooding. Extensive devastation. Picture sketchy. Emergency services presently "chainsawing" their way into some areas. And very real risk of localised flash flooding.

Tins - web

Delay unfortunate. But unavoidable. Besides, I’ve a large stock of tinned rations, hastily acquired in anticipation of having to be wholly self-sufficient in the aftermath of Yasi. All have to be eaten. Far too heavy to carry on the bike. Soups. Tinned tuna. Cans of tomatoes. Baked beans. Glad I’d remembered to pick up some extra toilet rolls…

I’d not get bored in Cairns. Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef might have to wait. But I’d heard there was another cyclist in town, who’d ridden up from Melbourne. Would have to try and track him down. Good source of intelligence for the road ahead.

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Contemplative mood

February 5th, 2011

Cyclones. Tick. An old friend of mine had often teased me. Suggesting I’d something of a check-list approach to life. We’d never quite agreed on this, but I certainly felt I’d had now got sufficient measure of tropical systems. Encounter another – and there’s a chance I might before the cyclone season ends – and I’d at least be pretty confident in my preparations. Added a new expression to my vocabulary – "bunkering down" – preparing to weather the storm.

Would I do the same again? In terms of preparations. Stocking up on rations. Moving to the relative security of a modern hotel. Built to cyclone standards. Above any tidal surge or flash flooding. Yes. Absolutely. Get the basics right. Shelter, food, warmth. Devise a plan. Execute it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t even blink. I’d been able to garner a lot of advice from locals. Those who’d been through these sort of things before. Helps a lot.

Hostel - web

The hostel had been a real find. But it was an old building. Its resilience to a Category 5 cyclone unknown. But more than that. We’d identified a windowless room that could provide a communal refuge from the winds. On the ground floor. Difficulty was that there was a real risk of tidal surge. Of the whole place being submerged under perhaps five or six feet of water. Maybe more. Needed to relocate to somewhere safer until the storm was over.

Mattress - web

Choice of where to evacuate to was very straightforward. Large, modern hotel directly opposite the hostel. Not the time to go shopping around for a deal. Take what you can. Snap decision. Within the hour the place was full. Mixture of Chinese tour groups. And locals who’d reached the same conclusion I had. Each night almost the same cost as a week in the hostel. But there some are things you cannot put a price on. Can’t afford to loose Emma. All the kit. And my own neck.

Oddly enough, soon after I’d arrived in Cairns, got a measure of the place, I’d joked with my parents that the only time you’d find me checking into a motel or hotel would be if I needed shelter from a cyclone. A last resort. Simply unaffordable otherwise. Eye-watering prices. Things said in jest.

By lunchtime Wednesday, twelve hours or so before the peak of the storm, the hostel was empty. All the residents relocated to safer locations. For us, it had been a collective decision. Rowan the manager, guests such as Paul, Miwa, Yuki and myself. All in it together. Making sure everyone, especially those whose grasp of English wasn’t so good, really understood the situation. Knew what to do.

Other travellers, those without friends or family to take refuge with, hadn’t be so fortunate. Aware of at least one other hostel where the owner had shut up shop. Turfed out the backpackers. Onto the streets. By then any spare accommodation gone. Airport closed. No way out. The city’s evacuation centres full.

Since I’d reached Australia, Queensland has endured extensive flooding in the south, and in the north the nation’s largest ever cyclone. Left wondering what was next. Plagues, pestilence, locusts? Glad the tent’s mozzie proof, I’ve plenty of repellant. And I’ve had just about every jab you can get your hands on.

[With especial thanks to Jackie for providing the inspiration behind the opening lines. And Exodus 8 for the last bit]

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Our man in Cairns

February 4th, 2011

I’d become our man in Cairns. Actually, BBC Somerset’s. Couple of radio interviews. Live. Always good for the adrenaline. Not that I’d be running low on it for a while. Courtesy Cyclone Yasi.

You can catch up on the interviews via the BBC Somerset iPlayer – simply click on the link. The first was broadcast around 9.30 am Wednesday 2 February on The Morning Show with Emma Britton. And the second went out around 4.10 pm the same day on the evening drive time show.

Times are a bit approximate – combination of my own slightly suspect recollections, confusion caused by time zones, and a lack of sleep. And I’ve no actual web access at the moment to check them out. Happy hunting!

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