Saturday, February 5, 2011

Disaster strikes!

The big news out of Australia is Tropical Cyclone Yasi, a nasty piece of work weighing in at category 5 - the highest level of measurement for a tropical cyclone. This made landfall a few days ago in northern Queensland, the same Australian state to be recently hit with the biggest floods in the country's history. With Australians still reeling from that catastrophic event, it seemed like this was going to be a double whammy of extremely dramatic proportions. But remarkably, despite the widespread structural damage and the secondary problems associated with that, the initial toll has been minimal. As of tonight, there is one person confirmed dead - from carbon monoxide poisoning due to using a petrol generator in an unventilated room. But although that total may rise as rescue workers and emergency crews cut into isolated communities, and although the damage and the trauma that was incurred will stay with the communities involved for many years to come, this was not the Hurricane Katrina-esque event we had all been dreading. Yay!

But the almost-apocalypse doesn't just happen every day and the cameras were rolling. Journalists documented dramatic rescues, emotional breakdowns and provided essential advice to those of their viewers that still had power - for example, Do not go outside and walk around your neighbourhood like the nice man on TV is doing because it isn't safe. Not all the messages were mixed, though, and that's where we came in.

Thankfully the rolling coverage of Tropical Cyclone Yasi didn't seem to have any glaring errors that could have led to distress, danger or confusion - unless people were going to be upset that their "crocs" had been destroyed. "Atherton tablelands" did come out once or twice as "Atherton table LANs," but I think people got the message all in all.

But while there were journos trying to be both informative and helpful, there were some that seemed to be a bit out of their depth. Maybe it was because they were dealing with rural northern Queenslanders, but listening to a clean-shaven, expensively attired young man in a studio dig deep into the barrel of true blue Aussie mateship blokey bloke-bloke-bloke cobber, me ole mate familiarity was a bit... uncomfortable at times. They did try their best, though. This was one of my favourite exchanges:
Q: It must be heart-wrenching for everyone this morning. 
A: Yes. It is unbelievable. 
Q: How many homes do you think have been affected? 
A: I would say 40% of the homes. 
Q: Out of how many? 
A: 40% of the number of what is here.
It's hard to get that magic number for your headlines when you are dealing with an extremely honest person. 

That was in Australia. Elsewhere in the world, there was this:

Oh, CNN. I am disappoint. (courtesy of @jasonbelcher.)

In every disaster coverage, there is the emotional/inspirational montage. It's a clever balancing act between destruction and hope and it has to capture the 'true spirit' of the people the disaster has affected. Themes of resilience, camaraderie and strength in adversity mixed with grief, shock and individual fragility accompanied by emotive strings or a gentle piano melody. Sadly, one network decided to go with Standard Epic Battle Theme Music Track 47. That was... unfortunate.

For me, the highlight of the cyclone coverage was the inclusion by the QLD disasters emergency committee of an AUSLAN signer at every press conference. Is this woman not awesome?

She and her colleagues were also included in the QLD flood pressers.

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