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Irish expat in the path of deadly Cyclone Yasi

February 2, 2011 • Irish Australia, News,

Tropical Cyclone Yasi forecast track map, provided by the Australian Government bureau of meteorology. The grey area tracks the likely path of the cyclone.

An experienced Tipperary sailor living in Queensland for the past 20 years has told the Irish Echo he’s staying put in his North Townsville home as Cyclone Yasi closes in.

This morning’s (Wednesday’s) update from the Bureau of Meteorology warned the cyclone was “a large and very powerful tropical cyclone and poses an extremely serious threat to life and property within the warning area, especially between Cairns and Townsville”.

Nenagh native Seán Downey and his wife Ann, who live in Bluewater around 40 km north of Townsville, say they’re taking the necessary precautions “in anticipation of what might happen”.

“The predicted path is Cairns and north of Cairns,” explains Mr Downey, “but the satellite shows [the cyclone is] tracking south a little bit.

“The cooler air on the land will push that hot air down along the coast, so we would have been quite safe. But with these factors the cyclone will travel down in a south-westerly pattern and it’s likely… we will be in a very, very severe path.”

Mr Downey, who says he has already experienced two minor cyclones in Australia as well as “the worst winds we’ve ever had in Ireland”, says Bluewater may be also affected by “mini-cyclones” created by Yasi.

“What people don’t realise is that say the wind is blowing at 290 km an hour within that cyclone itself, away from the eye, it develops mini cyclones. We’ll be in that outer path I think…the winds may develop to 350 km an hour, and that’s what takes the roof off your house.”

Mr Downey, who works for the Australian army, says he is stocking up on essential supplies.

“I always keep a good supply of tinned food. The power will go out inevitably but I have a generator and we’ll stockpile a couple of hundred litres of water. We have plenty of food in the fridge, so should last a week anyway.”

He has also tied his two sailing boats to steel pillars and is hoping his neighbours will do the same, as he says, there will be “flying objects”.

More than 10,000 homes in Townsville are considered to be at risk of flooding from tonight’s storm, with a tidal surge of up to 6 metres predicted.

Mr Downey estimates his home sits at 11 metres above sea level so should escape the worst of any flooding. Those in low-lying areas are likely to be worst affected, with many evacuating their homes.

“People are definitely panicked,” says the Tipperary native. “I’ve never seen as many camp trailers and caravans, people pulling boats, people with swags on top of their four by fours…everybody that can get out are all heading south…and heading 300/400 km down the road to try and escape the worst of this thing.”

Mr Downey says he and his wife will find refuge in their bathroom when the worst of the cyclone hits tonight, as it is the sturdiest room in the house.

“I have an exceptionally good bathroom with concrete brick around the whole area, so even if the roof goes we’ll be safe.”

The father of two says he’s trying to stay calm about Yasi, which has been upgraded to category five, and is predicted to be the same strength as the devastating Hurricane Katrina.

“It will be very frightening…all you can do is prepare…if you come out of it at the end of the day with your life you’ve survived, and insurance will pick up the rest.”

by Claire McGreal

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