Natural Disasters

One criticism frequently levelled against the media is that we habitually devote acres of space to disasters involving ourselves and other first world nations and relegate bigger catastrophes in the developing world to a couple of paragraphs on page 44.

Meanwhile, in Haiti… Photo: Getty Images

It is true that this happens but I don’t regard it as particularly evil. It is no different from the fact that a television station in Guatemala will run big on an earthquake in nearby Nicaragua yet ignore or downplay something much worse which happened in Australia or Indonesia or Thailand. Proximity and familiarity motivate these news judgments. I doubt the Queensland floods or the Victorian bushfires were on the front page of many newspapers in Africa. 

The coverage of Hurricane Sandy in Australia this week has been massive, and understandably so, as we have a close relationship with America, many of us have holidayed there, many of us have lived or do live there.

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  • Cam says:

    06:24pm | 02/11/12

    “US death toll from Sandy rises to 92” .... Read more »

  • marley says:

    02:52pm | 02/11/12

    @Rita - I agree entirely with all with your points about Yasi (Brisbane was a slightly different matter).  But my point really was that the American system worked well for a far more heavily populated region, and there are always lessons we could learn.  The assumption that their experience has… Read more »


The phone isn’t answering this afternoon at The Bridge Tavern and Steakhouse in Wagga Wagga.

A city turned on its head… inundated North Wagga Wagga in the foreground with the Wagga Wagga CBD in the background. Pic: AFP Photo.

The line also rings out at the Duke Hotel, The Home Tavern Hotel and The Tourist Hotel, all of which share a riverside address in Fitzmaurice St in downtown Wagga Wagga, where a State of Emergency has just been declared

At least 9,000 people in Australia’s 29th most populous city have evacuated and is eerily quiet as the deluge approaches. A deluge has already come from the skies. The city received 156 mm in the first four days of March. But the upper Murrumbidgee catchment received up to three times that much, and that water is now heading into town.

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  • PhilD says:

    09:01pm | 06/03/12

    Waves don’t move all that fast and neither do floods but they can move a long way until they level out. Floods follow the plains and when several deluges are channelled into one area at the same time you get a flood, even in the hills eg Cooma and Toowoomba.… Read more »

  • Little Joe says:

    08:29pm | 06/03/12

    If Ant was a journalist he would tell you that Wayne Swan reduced National Disaster Relief by $7B over the next 4-years in the 2011-12 MYEFO. There was a Contingency Fund that could have been drawn from but he also extracted $7B from that also. Good luck NSW ...... Gillard… Read more »


Well, a Chilean volcano has finally given Australia what we tried but spectacularly failed to achieve last summer. We have The Ashes.

Such tranquility… such chaos

In a spooky parallel to the Eyjafjallajokull eruption last year, the Puyehue volcano has erupted, wreaking havoc with air travel. Just as an aside, wouldn’t it be nice if a volcano we can all spell went haywire for a change?

For so many Australian travellers, the long weekend has been long for all the wrong reasons. If you’ve been stranded somewhere, or know someone who’s been stranded, tell us your story.

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  • Steph says:

    04:26pm | 15/06/11

    My weekend was extended in Adelaide. My wife was on a flight after me today. As a consequence of my absence, I must give a special thanks to Penbo for helping carry my five year old daughter from the plane when she refused to wake. Read more »

  • Shenanigans says:

    10:29am | 15/06/11

    does that mean when it starts spewing out millions of tons of lava we will be taxed on that too, cos i mean really, think of all those poor innocent trees growing on the side of this volcano that will get burnt and produce carbon (being the carbon based life… Read more »


My wife and I came from traditional working class backgrounds and single income families. We are now considered middle class as we live in our own home, we own a newish car and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle because we have worked hard and saved for the future. 

Luxuries like flat screen TVs, an iPhone or a wardrobe full of clothes mean nothing when disaster strikes.

Our home, car and assets are insured and we have managed our finances carefully in order to access such benefits as private health insurance. In the current economic climate we are regarded as “haves” but we seem despised by some elements of the community who consider themselves the “have nots”

American pollster John Zogby sees a growing number of the community falling into the “have not” category. He calls them the “Dreamless Dead” being those who no longer believe in the existence of hard work to achieve success in life.

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  • jf says:

    02:14pm | 27/04/11

    Ryan says:07:12pm | 26/04/11 “@Jf and Jane: fair enough but I just cannot see how so many who were not subject to flash flooding yet had flood cover were not covered because it appeared the flooding came from a drain. Oh well, at least there is none of this absolute… Read more »

  • Ryan says:

    07:12pm | 26/04/11

    @Jf and Jane: fair enough but I just cannot see how so many who were not subject to flash flooding yet had flood cover were not covered because it appeared the flooding came from a drain. Oh well, at least there is none of this absolute bs in my cover,… Read more »


It’s time that Mr. Rudd learned some manners.

Hey Kevin, Japan isn't ready to think so far ahead. Photo: Kym Smith.

Imagine, for a moment, that your house has caught fire. Imagine that some of your family members are still inside the house.

You are doing everything within your power to get them out, and to safety. At the same time, you know that some of your family members have already died.

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  • catherine says:

    07:56pm | 16/03/11

    Slightly insulting, not worded sympathetically, but sadly mostly true, at least in regard to our leaders. Gillard makes me shudder with mortification every time she opens her mouth. Rudd was a grossly incompetent leader but at least he had some degree of integrity. Gillard lies through her teeth at every… Read more »

  • Jugg says:

    07:15am | 16/03/11

    What do you know MarK, The situation deteriorates, it’s worse than reported or first understood. Of course, we and the 11,000 Australians in the country, aren’t entitled to know this information.  It could cause their deaths, but they aren’t entitled to know this. Read more »


It didn’t take long for the whackjobs and nutbags to start pushing their spiteful little barrows in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. In fact, it took them all of about two minutes.

Global warming did not cause this. Image: AP

The minute The Punch threw up an open thread for people to express sympathy, or share other information related to this unprecedented catastrophe, the snide, narky little comments started sneaking in. And it happened not just here but all over the internet, the twittersphere, and beyond. Sometimes, all this connectedness really is a curse.

Ludicrously, some hailed the event as evidence of climate change. Others thought they’d restart the age old religious debate on God, and the Problem of Evil. Others jumped headlong into the nuclear debate, like that couldn’t wait a day or two. One reader cheekily but tastelessly suggested the event was fair payback for Japanese whaling. Most astonishingly of all, some thought they’d harness the terrible moment to have their daily dig at Julia Gillard. Like this website hadn’t had 10 stories in the last week where people could vent on the PM.

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  • Thommo says:

    11:26am | 18/03/11

    “The Punch exists for robust debate. We wouldn’t be here without it, and we never delete anyone’s comments, regardless of political leaning, as long as they don’t revert to name calling, really bad language or incitement to violence/hatred. We allowed the barrow pushers in the weekend thread and we’ll grit… Read more »

  • Josephus says:

    05:47pm | 15/03/11

    You mad, Shane? Read more »


Yesterday, the Twittersphere erupted after Penbo had a crack at Jonathan Green, who had had a crack at media coverage of disaster. Here, Natalie Savino gives us her take on disaster coverage.

There’s no doubt the earthquake in Christchurch was devastating. Between unthinkable acts of humanity such as those of September 11 and the ruthless unleashing of Mother Nature, we have, as a society, been exposed to some horrific sights and sounds on our screens.

'AFP photo/HO/NZ TV3 via Sky News

This week’s earthquake, last month’s floods, the bushfires, and the violent protests in the Middle East are just a few examples.

What worries me most is the amount of detail we are shown. Sitting at the dinner table after the earthquake, we were greeted with shocking images of men with bloodied faces, women on the ground in agony, and others being carried away on stretchers. Not to mention the voiceovers which liken events to “that of a war zone”. But unlike the film classifications that come with box office features, we were not warned of what was to come – in fact, we didn’t have a choice between the seemingly M15+ news and its milder G rated fellows.

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  • mike says:

    05:21am | 28/02/11

    Hiding the realities just leaves our children unable to cope if it ever comes close. The world NOW is being run by children who were witnessing war and the ravages of nature and have done fine. If a chikld does not wish to see they can move and protect themselves.… Read more »

  • Christchurch Born says:

    03:47am | 28/02/11

    I’m sorry the 24 hour coverage interfered with the broadcasting of Home and Away and inconvenienced you and your family’s TV time.  On behalf of the half a million New Zealanders who live in this country, and the millions of Australians with NZ friends and family, I apologize.  In a… Read more »


John Tsouroutis has taken a $1 million salary cut to join a crusade to make states look after themselves. He’s now on the relative hardscrabble of an adviser’s pay in the office of independent senator Nick Xenophon.

Did you say $1 MILLION DOLLARS? Pic: Kym Smith

Tsouroutis was managing director of the TIO banking and insurance group from 2003 until 2008 when the commute from Adelaide to Darwin became too much for the family.

From his business career he knows how government can force individuals to insure themselves. Just take third party cover for motorists. He wants to make sure state governments do the same thing, rather than expect someone else to pay reconstruction costs after a natural disaster. Tsouroutis was on an elite salary with TIO and hopes to get back on one soon. But he’s got a big job to complete first.

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  • Fred Frogg says:

    04:58pm | 19/03/11

    God save Australia to have consultants / advisors like Mr. Tsouroutis. Read more »

  • jf says:

    09:26am | 27/02/11

    What a strange day today is when I find myself largely in agreement with acotrel. You are right of course in that we end up paying whether it is with premiums over a period of time or in one lump sum when/if it happens. Risk, of course, is priced based… Read more »


These past two days I’ve been gazing at my fellow office workers and wondering: If an earthquake struck here, who would be a hero? Who would run back into the crumbling building for a mate, who would risk their life for another?

Screengrab from TV3 by AP

I had imagined that, of the hundreds of people, a few would shine.

Maybe that chick over there that always looks calm and competent. Maybe not that bloke who can never manage eye contact.

I also wondered what I would do and had a terrifying thought that I would be a panicker, a useless screamer (or swearer, more likely) who only contributed to the chaos.

But, as it turns out, more people are everyday heroes than I thought.

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  • Servaas says:

    12:23am | 26/02/11

    I’d say it has a lot to do with the ‘equalising’ effect of a disaster or terrifying event, or the way it bring things into perspective, how it shatters our images we put so much time and effort in. We’re all tempted to protect our reputations, to be admired by… Read more »

  • Chris L says:

    03:11pm | 25/02/11

    Marley, are you implying that other species cannot show the “human” spirit? I once saw a dog risk death to drag an injured friend off a busy freeway! Don’t be such specists people! Read more »


This summer of Australian natural disasters has been book-ended by two New Zealand disasters, both of which claimed more lives than all of the Australian weather-related calamities put together.

Despair. Pic: Getty Images

In late November, the Pike River mine blast claimed 29 victims. Various Australian weather events – most notably the SE Queensland floods – then claimed around 25 lives, while the death toll continues to rise rapidly from yesterday’s devastating Christchurch earthquake. At last count it was 65 and early morning reports suggest this could reach as high as 200.

There are no lessons in all of this, except one. New Zealand’s pain is our pain. And ours is theirs.

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  • whogsork says:

    07:25am | 12/10/12

    replica purses suprisely xyQLzNJP Read more »

  • Anna says:

    12:21pm | 28/02/11

    Thanks Phil. Absolutely. Where is the humour in death? I am all for a bit of banter when it comes to sheep, fish & chips and all the other (tired old) Australian jokes aimed at Kiwis however I obviously am only speaking for myself when I say my humour does… Read more »


The dramatic return of 60 Minutes on the weekend raises new questions about so-called “death knocks”.

It's hard to imagine any report could adequately capture the heartbreak of losing young Jessica Keep

In the first story, reporter Michael Usher interviews the Keep family, who last month lost baby Jessica and both grandmothers in the Grantham flooding.

The 23-month-old was torn from her pregnant mother’s arms. It is difficult to imagine a greater tragedy.

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  • Tracy Lindley says:

    09:49pm | 24/02/11

    Thanks Wendy. I am not actually a resident , just someone who has become very close to many of them whilst doing a support project for them and will continue to do so for a long time. Cheers. Read more »

  • Ginnie Carroll -Wilson says:

    09:53am | 21/02/11

    Well said Nury and I so agree.As media dies down people just carry on with their normal lives as though nothing ever happened. And yet they have no idea of what the people of Grantham and the Lockyer valley are still and will be going through to rebuild their lives.… Read more »


We must rebuild for everyone

And if it's rebuilt with federal funds, don't forget the ramps. Image: AP.

I visited a woman recently who - for the last three years - has only left her house once a week. Not because she doesn’t want to, but because she can’t.

Ruth - not her real name - uses an electric wheelchair, and has almost no vision. She lives in public housing and - through a decision driven by crass and uncaring bureaucracy - has been placed in a house which has three steps at the front, and six at the back. She has been provided with a portable ramp, which she cannot put in place without assistance.

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  • Edward James says:

    01:25pm | 13/02/11

    @ Chris. Taxpayers are being bullied by people in positions of power. Several years ago Gosford City Council installed tactile aids in local footpaths incorrectly. They are intended to help visually impaired pedestrians to line themselves up at a right angle to the gutter so they may move straight across… Read more »

  • Chris says:

    08:57am | 13/02/11

    Right Graeme as someone with a disability I am going to agree and disagree with you. Personal housing needs to be accessible. I am not arguing with you. I also believe there needs to be access to footpaths, transport and community buildings which are widely used. I am however fed… Read more »


The Queensland floods are the most economically damaging natural disaster in Australian history – but as reconstruction begins, we should be wary of a different type of deluge, of a far more avoidable type.

When the army clear out, it'd be great to see young Australians fill the breach. Image: Stuart McEvoy.

In December last year, ANU academic Peter McDonald made headlines when he suggested that foreign workers should be rushed into the country to work below Australian minimum wages and conditions.

Professor McDonald argued that Australia needed to accelerate the construction of major infrastructure and that the best way to achieve it would be to put the projects out to international tender, allowing the winning bidder to bring their own workers to remunerate and treat as they see fit.

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  • Rakhi says:

    10:00am | 07/08/12

    Keighley Super Sundays   Sunday Novermber 29th and Sunday December 6th. Join us either or both for fun and froilvities. Meet 35 Devonshire Street at 11am Read more »

  • Stephanie Todd says:

    09:55am | 08/02/11

    If restuarant owners and operators want to hire backpakers at half the price as an Australia man or woman then no low paid work for workers will be left. Next other industry groups will follow suit, hospitals will hire only backpakers to done low paid jobs, Australians will need to… Read more »


FLOODS, cyclones and bushfires have torn apart people’s lives and communities in recent weeks, but it’s their legacy that could be even more painful.

The pain is just beginning for 86 yr old Tully resident Maria Domandi. Image: Stuart McEvoy

Hearts went out to the victims of the Queensland floods in particular, galvanising a wave of support around the country and raising hundreds of millions of dollars in donations.

At the same time, floods and bushfires spanning the eastern states through to the west spread the suffering.

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  • mary monica roche says:

    07:20pm | 07/02/11

    Your comment :is there any more disasters and pain to come? wait for March 26 2011!! Read more »

  • Mikko says:

    04:12pm | 07/02/11

    The floods and Cyclone Yasi have also focussed attention on the need to upgrade infrastructure to a much higher standard rather than a quick patch job which will be full of holes the next time it rains. This applies particularly to the flood and accident-prone Highway One,  leading to calls… Read more »



Regular Punch reader and commenter David Pierce spent the night in his weatherboard home on Magnetic Island, 8km off Townsville, bunkered down against the fury of Cyclone Yasi with his wife and two children.

“My darkest moment came when the wind shifted and stuff was breaking up and hitting the house,” he told The Punch this morning. “The worst part was not knowing what was hitting the house.”

Fortunately, Pierce and his family got though the night. (Check the wind gusts at a nearby weather station on this link). And as he spends today cleaning up the debris in his yard, he has no doubt why Yasi’s human toll has been so low.

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  • Jason says:

    02:42am | 06/02/11

    So many people in the last month have been hiding in fear of their own survival or on a rooftop with the same fears.  Have some compassion.  It just makes you look small.  And for many the media was the best way to gather information.  Our politicians have been surprisingly… Read more »

  • Bush Techie says:

    10:34pm | 04/02/11

    Interesting to see some comments from uninformed people in Brisbane who have just been through the floods. I would take a flood anytime over 24+ hours of gale force winds that battered North Queensland with this cyclone. Most cyclones last around 6 to 8 hours over the area (such as… Read more »


The flooding in Pakistan was an unavoidable natural disaster. The measures we take now will decide if we can avoid an ongoing humanitarian disaster.

Picture: Corporal Chris Moore.

Last Thursday I visited Pakistan to inspect the flood damage and the Australian response in Kot Addu, near Multan in the Southern Punjab.

The UN High-Level Meeting on Pakistan today met to discuss the adequacy, or inadequacy, of the international response. This meeting has one challenge – to prevent a natural disaster becoming a humanitarian calamity that could have been avoided.

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  • K King says:

    06:50pm | 21/09/10

    Fran Fran Fran, Pakistani cabbies aren’t as wealthy and fortunate as some of us snobs. They, like any other cabbies from other ethnicities are deservedly earning their hard earned dollar, exposing themselves to dangers and working the odd hours while you and me sleep in our warm and cozy beds.… Read more »

  • Austin 3:16 says:

    05:33pm | 21/09/10

    Hey Denny, yeah Australia’s debt is about 6% of our income. Unlike Tony Abbott who’s personal debt is several times his income. Maybe we should also start a fund to help him out, what do you reckon? Read more »


Disease looms as the second wave of death behind virtually every natural disaster.  It is why the first stages of relief efforts are best measured by what doesn’t happen rather than what does. 

A girl looking for fresh water in a Pakistani camp. Photo/AFP

The response to the Asian tsunami was stunningly successful in halting thousands more deaths through disease.

The threat of disease is the reason why in Pakistan today, even though flood waters have peaked and are beginning to recede, the situation facing millions of survivors is catastrophic.

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  • A Nobody says:

    10:42am | 29/09/11

    Being a muslim and donating to 5 local charities locally in Australia I just can’t believe some of you are so heartless. Maybe I should stop giving locally and give to Pakistan instead. I am a low income earner. I just get by most of the time. I always find… Read more »

  • Robinoz says:

    09:31pm | 26/09/10

    I wouldn’t give Pakistan a cent. It’s full of Taliban who are killing off those whom they think are Christians, denying food aid to those who aren’t muslim. Pakistan isn’t a friend of Australia’s. Let the numerous muslim countries help Pakistan and put our money to better uses. Read more »


Thousands of people are feared dead after two earthquakes in Sumatra, Indonesia. Our live coverage of the latest developments, with links to coverage around the web is over the jump.

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