Bush Fires: A Grave Danger

bfagdSydney’s 1994 bushfire did, in fact, kill a young woman. But the death of strangers does not press on people for long. A killer fire will probably hit Sydney in due course, but not yet. The fires cause millions of dollars worth of damage, but if it was not your house that went up in smoke you hardly notice the personal cost of small increases in insurance premiums and the artful ploys of the state government to raise more revenue.

For most Sydney people I think there is a sensuous thrill in living under a red-black sky for a week or two, experiencing near-darkness at noon, breathing in lightly smoked air and seeing ashes accumulate in the pool. It’s a toss-up who gets the greater thrill when hostesses call guests to cancel Sunday lunch invitations because “it’s getting a bit hairy out our way”.

The telling of post-fire war stories approaches Sydney ceremonial. To stand on the verandah, tracing with extended arm the path of the circle of fire that almost engulfed you, is richly satisfying. If you are lucky enough to live along the myriad inlets and bays of the Hawkesbury estuary, with the Kuringai or Brisbane Waters National Parks at your back, you can keep discussion going into the …

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Tornado Time: What To Do?

tornadotimeYour safe room should be in a basement. If a basement is unavailable, use a windowless interior room, the closer to the center of the building, the better. If you live in a mobile home, go to a place that will afford better protection. Mobile homes are not built to withstand the force generated by a small tornado.

Once you have established a safe place to take shelter, stock it with some basic, but very necessary, supplies. If these items cannot be stored in the safe room, keep them in a small backpack that can travel with you when an emergency arises. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that you gather the following items:

* a flashlight with extra batteries;

* a battery-operated radio that receives the National Weather Service broadcast;

* a first aid kit;

* food and water to last at least a couple of days (food that does not require heating or water to prepare is best);

* a non-electric can opener;

* medicines you or other members of your family take on a regular basis;

* cash and credit cards; and

* heavy-duty shoes or boots.

When conditions are ripe for tornado development, the weather service will issue a “tornado watch.” A watch does not mean …

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A Flood Essay

afeyAs the water continued to spread, we hefted furniture up on stacks of bricks our freezer atop coolers. We carried dripping boxes of Christmas decorations and childhood treasures to drier areas of the basement. Within three. and a half hours, the flood water, some of which was sewage backup, would rise to a height of more than a metre.

When our kids woke, I left Todd to the moving and hoisting and escaped with the kids to McDonald’s for breakfast. The sun was coming up now and I could see that the flood was everywhere. Stalled cars, some up to their axles in water, littered the roadway. After breakfast, I drove to the day care before heading home again. Leaving my children in the raging wind and rain – and in the too recent aftermath of Sept. 11 – was intensely unsettling. But how could I keep them at home?

Back in the basement, Todd continued. “It’s coming in everywhere, every opening, every drain,” he said. We heard frequent gurglings and then splashes as bottles and boxes and jars first floated, then capsized and sank. We watched in despair as the spilled contents of our freezer bobbed around the oil furnace. I helped Todd tie our floating freezer to a …

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