Australia is a magnificent country, but one that suffers enormous natural disasters - cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes and bushfires. Today I feature a major disaster that hit northern Australia on Christmas Day 1974 - Cyclone Tracy.
Tracy was first detected as a depression in the Arafura Sea on 20 December 1974. It moved slowly southwest and intensified, passing close to Bathurst Island on the 23rd and 24th. Then it turned sharply to the east southeast, and headed straight at Darwin, striking the city early on Christmas Day.
Warnings were issued, but perhaps because it was Christmas eve, and perhaps because no severe cyclone had affected Darwin in many years - many residents were caught unprepared. But even had there been perfect compliance, the combination of extremely powerful winds, and the loose design of many buildings at that time, was such that wholesale destruction was probably inevitable anyway.
As usual in such disasters, many communication links failed, but enough survived to let the world know of the catastrophe, and relief measures were soon under way. An airlift involving both civilian and military aircraft was swiftly organised, while many residents chose to drive out. Within several weeks, three-quarters of Darwin's population had left.
With so much destruction of both homes and infrastructure, the population of about 45,000 was reduced to about 10,000 by a mass evacuation of people to other Australian cities. This was organised by Major-General Alan Stretton, Director-General of the Natural Disasters Organisation and Minister for the Northern Territory, Rex Patterson.
Animation of the last few hours
as Tracy approached Darwin.
Many of the families that left never returned and the rebuilding attracted people from many different places resulting in a young, diverse population who rebuilt the city.
Darwin was rebuilt and now thrives as one of our most important gateways to Asia.
Now, you might like to watch a brief video about Cyclone Tracy:
Clancy's comment: Australia is a tough nation. However, we are not alone. Many countries face extraordinary disasters. I guess it's a constant battle to face the power of nature ... and we do - sometimes.