Palm Island residents are fearing for the worst as they brace for Cyclone Yasi to hit at approximately 10pm tonight. Crikey spoke to former Palm Island mayor Robert Blackley moments ago.
“People are woefully unprepared. The state of Queensland has abandoned us,” said Blackley, who is currently holed up in his home on the island (approximately 3.5 metres above sea level.)
“Officially there are four evacuation centres but only one is above the storm surge level, the other three are within three metres of sea level,” said Blackley. The water is expected to surge six metres.
“I’ve screwed 18mm ply into every single window and I’ve sandbagged the doors and got my animals inside and everything. I’m not stupid enough to go outside and see what other people are doing,” said Blackley.
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While army and emergency service personnel are door knocking and preparing residents on the mainland, the residents of Palm Island have been left to fend for themselves.
“Twenty minutes ago two blokes were walking down the street drunk and kids are playing in the backyard, with 90 km wind. And yesterday, when I looked around, boats — not on trailers — were sitting in people’s front yards, car bodies. Essentially, deadly missiles all over the community and should have been picked up, mostly by the local council.”
Blackley told Crikey that an emergency boat organized by the local council left the island yesterday, “there was an emergency boat put on yesterday, but no one really got on it because you had to buy a ticket. Tickets are between $12-27…My children and mother, nieces, nephews, all got on it.”
Blackley runs several community organisations on the island, including a men’s group and as former mayor, anticipates that he’ll be heavily involved in the dealing with the aftermath. But right now, the plan is to “sit tight, if the storm surge comes and ends up in the house. [We’ll be] sitting tight under the stairwell. Emergency backpacks are close by. If the storm surge ends up in the house, we’ll be upstairs into the bathroom, in the bath, under the mattress, no doubt covered with water [because the roof will probably be gone].”
This afternoon Premier Anna Bligh told reporters in Brisbane,”… Residents in low lying areas had been moved to higher ground.” She told reporters, “.. It will be one of the islands that experiences some very early symptoms of the cyclone, because it is just that bit off shore. I am very confident the council has done a good job in alerting people.”
But Blackley told Crikey, “… It’s going to be massive, 250-300km winds. A six metre storm surge and 90% of the community’s houses — a large percentage structurally unsound — will be inundated by storm surge and blown away by the wind… If it hits, there will be loss of life on Palm Island, simply because people are unaware of the magnitude of the situation.”
“I’m concerned for the lives of the good people of Palm, and the bad people on Palm. Concerned for lots of life and property, worried about my partner, worried about my family. Don’t think my nanna’s health is going to stand up to this.”
Residents and tourists at popular holiday Queensland islands — like Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Lindeman Island — have been evacuated.
Last night Marni Cordell at New Matilda spoke with current Palm Island mayor Alfred Lacey. Lacey disagreed with Blackley’s assertions that Palm Island was unprepared and abandoned, and said Blackley was “scoring political points.” “We’d been planning this for Cyclone Anthony, and our cyclone preparations are certainly bedded down,” said Lacey.
Lacey told New Matilda that most residents had gone to higher ground and that “all are in homes that are cyclone-rated,” although he didn’t give an exact number of how much of Palm Island housing is cyclone-proof.