Reporting Disasters : local journalist 1

Communities left without power and phones by Cyclone Yasi looked to local newspapers during the emergency.

John Flynn, 39, is a reporter for the Innisfail Advocate, a newspaper located at the very centre of Cyclone Yasi’s  storm damage in north Queensland.

Flynn said that when he attended the local disaster management comittee , he was told that he would have to evacuate his house at Flying Fish Point, where there was expected to be a six metre ocean storm surge.

The weather patterns were the same as the devastating 1918 cyclone which “wiped towns off the map”. “If you knew your local history, you knew someone was going to be hit,” Flynn said.

A Police officer initially denied him access to the disaster management meeting, seeking to have all information mediated by state public relations channels. Flynn sought  the support of local councillors to get in. “The local media know their area and should be trusted,”he said.

When the winds abated, Flynn drove out to interview Mark Nucifora, a banana grower in a district where the cyclone hit with full force.

I could see the rain forest had been stripped off the mountains..Power poles had been bent over. In the distance I saw the remains of a house. I saw a shed with its concrete pylons ripped from the ground. There were steel girders bent over. I saw Mark’s wife over in a field, just looking out into space. I realised what he lost… That was my welcome to cyclone Yasi.

Luxury yachts after Yasi

Telephones failed. The power was cut off. Parachute journalists who had reached the area had satellite phones. Local journalists did not. As part of News Corporation‘s network, Innisfail Advocate journalists would normally file their stories and photos to a server in another centre, so that the processed material could be sent back for publication. “For a while it looked like we wouldn’t be able to get a newspaper out,” Flynn said.

Having been evacuated, I am living in the office at this stage. I didn’t even know whether I had a house to go back to. It plays on your mind a bit.

Flynn used Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family;

February 4 at 6:36pm: Hello world, I’m back! Sorry, no comms for the past two days. We now have internet and somehow have just managed to put some sort of paper out, scrambled together in the past couple of hours. All I can say is this is a really horrible experience. It’s challenging covering it and living it at the same time. The house is OKish – my fish survived and so did most of my kangaroos.


Stripped rainforest

February 5 at 7:52pm : It’s difficult to describe what I saw today. The scale of this disaster is far greater than authorities realise. A tough country town publican crying, a 14 year old girl celebrating her birthday in a wrecked house, entire beachside communities almost wiped off the map…More heartache I have not witnessed in one day.

February 7 at 8:53am : Cardwell .. words cannot describe. I went to the beach cafe which serves the best beer battered barramundi on the coast yesterday and theres’ basically nothing left of it. Then there’s Port Hinchinbrook….

February 9 at 12:24pm : Finally a morning off after working around the clock for the past week. We may even have power in the next day or two. Woohoo!

February 9 at 9:05pm : All quiet at the point tonight, except for the humm of generators! Power may be coming soon. Facebooking tonight by candlelight with what remains of my laptop battery… Thanks to everyone who was in contact over the past week, it helps a lot to know that people care.

Thursday at 11:05pm : Woohoo.. I’m doing backflips. We have electricty at the point. Just returned from another long day in the disaster zone .. looking forward to a day off, but first we have to bash out another paper. Life is beautiful!

Equipped with a camera and a laptop loaded with photographic and video software, Flynn edited his own material and filed it with “the handful of staff” who still had dial up internet connections at home. He compressed images to transmit them to Townsville to allow journalists there to produce a special twelve page Saturday pictorial for Innisfail.

Newspapers were trucked into areas where there was no power for radio, television or telephones.

“They talk about the death of newspapers,” Flynn said, ” but I have come to realise how important the printed word is to people”


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