Australia storm bears down

It’s not just the United States facing big weather today, Australia has problems of a different nature.

Expected to remain a strong category 4 storm with sustained winds in excess of 175 miles per hour, Cyclone Yasi has Australians running for safety. The storms intensity and 400-mile wide size is expected to go as far as 600 miles inland, threatening more than 400,000 people in its path.

“There’s no time for complacency,” Mike Brunker, mayor of the Whitsunday area near the Great Barrier Reef told Reuters. “People in low-lying areas are evacuating to friends and family or, if they have to, leave town.”

Coal mines, rail lines and coal ports were closed in Queensland state as the massive storm headed toward the coast. Up to a third of Australia’s sugar crop was also under threat

“This storm is huge and life threatening,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told NewsDaily, warning the system was intensifying and picking up speed on its path from the Coral Sea, with destructive winds expected from Wednesday morning.

The situation worsens by the hour. 40,000 people were evacuated from the coastal areas overnight, Carins airport is expected to close on Wednesday and Tropical rains have been battering the area since November.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said residents up and down the coast needed to prepare. “It’s such a big storm – it’s a monster, killer storm – that it’s not just about where this crosses the coast that is at risk”

Photo: Reuters

Katrina exhibit opens in New Orleans

It was the most catastrophic event in New Orleans history. Hurricane Katrina destroyed large swathes of the city and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Now the Louisiana State Museum has opened an exhibit chronicling the natural disasters that have visited New Orleans, culminating in the most recent and worst.

Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond, a 6,700 square-foot multimedia exhibition, opened this week. The show traces the history of the city’s relationship to the elements and explores how such disasters can be averted in the future. Interactive displays show how hurricanes form, why they are so prevalent in the Gulf, and how Katrina broke the levees and caused such widespread destruction.

Many individual stories are told, like that of Ken Ballau, who used his boat to rescue four hundred stranded civilians. His boat is part of the display. Claudio Hemb’s jeans are exhibited too. Thinking he was going to die, Hemb wrote his and his wife’s names, her phone number in Houston, his social security number and blood type on his pants so his body could be identified and his wife informed.

The museum hopes the exhibit will act as a catharsis for New Orleans residents, as well as educational for the thousands of out-of-towners who visit the museum every year.

[Image courtesy U.S. Coast Guard]

Herculaneum on display in Italy

I can still picture the Time Life book photograph of a child turned into stone from the eruption of Vesuvius. It was one of those elementary school images that captured my attention and hasn’t let go.

Okay, I think it was a Time Life book and I think the photo was a child, but for sure that eruption in Pompeii centuries before I hit 2nd grade has had the power to show just how fragile we are when it comes to natural disasters. Pompeii wasn’t the only town that met with destruction from Vesuvius’s handiwork. Herculaneum was also destroyed. According to this USA Today article, Herculaneum was where wealthy Romans liked to frequent because of its seaside views.

There’s an exhibit of the artifacts that have been uncovered over the centuries at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy. Among the bounty are large marble statues and smaller bronze ones that highlight the opulence of the time.

The exhibit is up through April 13. This Wikipedia photo is of a boathouse in Herculaneum.

Hanoi is water-logged

Heavens! Hanoi, one of my most favorite cities is braving through floods these days–the worst in more than twenty years. I’ve visited Hanoi on several occasions, but never in rains like this. I do recall slogging through Taipei in a downpour once and needing to wring out my socks in a restaurant sink, but Hanoi’s woes are far greater.

There are a few videos on YouTube that chronicle the floods, but I chose this one that was posted two days ago because of the personal narrative. It reminds me of that feeling of being soaked. Plus, the Hello Kitty umbrella the one guy is holding is so Asian.

According to the description, the flooding became worse after the video was taken. Here’s the New York Times article that gives details about the disaster. The article says that the flooding will continue to worsen through tomorrow. Parts of northern Vietnam are also being affected. I’ve e-mailed a good friend of ours who lives in Hanoi, not far from the old quarter but so far, have heard nothing back.

The Olympic torch: A continuing saga

For the next three days, the Olympic torch is going no where. Starting today, it’s journey to Beijing was put on hiatus while China is having three-days of mourning to commemorate the losses caused by last week’s earthquake. After the torch’s trip up Mt. Everest–and its altered jaunt through San Francisco after being hustled into a van in Europe when protesters put it out a few times, the torch certainly seems to be capturing the highs and lows of the human struggle to survive and excel.

According to the news, just like the path the torch has taken, the Olympics might not look like what the Chinese originally planned. There may be a version with less hoopla.

As China struggles to deal with the catastrophe dealt by the earth’s movement, some shoddy building construction and bad luck, the torch’s symbolism seems all that more poignant. It might seem like who should care about a flame in the throes of such a disaster, but in a way, if the torch does make it to Beijing to signal the start off the summer games, it could be seen as representing more than its original intention.

When the torch changed hands in Australia on that sunny day the end of April, there wasn’t any inkling that the news in China would be so devastating three weeks later. When the torch appears in Beijing to light the big Olympic flame, perhaps it might have switched from a symbol of China’s might to one that highlights the perserverance of humanity despite the forces that might put us out.