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Optoms Survive Cyclone Yasi

When Cyclone Yasi hit the top-end of Queensland in early February, optometrists braced themselves for devastation. As the weather warnings, which were issued every 30 minutes, continued to escalate in intensity, Queenslanders wondered how much more of nature’s fury they could take.

Greg Johnson, CEO of the Optometry Association of Australia’s (OAA) Queensland branch, said the lead up to the cyclone was nerve-racking. “People living in that area understand what cyclones are about, they’ve been through plenty of them, and so they were well prepared. However the warnings were quite serious and therefore worrying.”

The OAA has over 100 optometrists operating in the large geographic area, from Townsville to Cairns that was expected to be worst hit by the cyclone. Mr. Johnson sent text messages to as many members as possible that evening, wishing them well and offering moral support. “I got some lovely SMS’s – sent from people’s cellars, bathrooms or toilets – the rooms in the house that are the safest places to be. The nicest response came from a very gentle lady who explained that she was safe with her family, a good stock of Tim Tams and a few bottles of wine.”

Like many across the state, Mr. Johnson said he didn’t sleep very well that night. “The whole of Queensland took one deep breath. But then we woke up and saw the news; and it wasn’t that bad after all.”

If I’m driving in rain at 7pm and there is lightning all around, a fear cloud surrounds me… It makes me consider my position in the world – how insignificant we are in the face of nature.

Fortunately both Cairns and Townsville escaped the full brunt of the cyclone. The next closest settlement where a significant number of optometrists operate was Innisfail. Mr. Johnson was relieved to hear that this area had also faired betted than expected.

While much of Queensland was left relatively unscathed, areas like Hamilton Island and Tully were severely damaged, adding to the workload ahead of Queenslanders already trying to remedy infrastructure ruined over two months of flooding.

“I’ve got to give full credit to councils and the state government,” said Mr. Johnson. “They’ve responded quickly and without a lot of fuss to get things back to the way they were. I drive quite a distance to get between work and home, and I see sides of highways washed away and reduced to single lanes. Gangs are working 24 hours a day to make repairs. Tradespeople have far too much work now.”

On a personal level, Mr. Johnson said the floods have left a lasting impression. “If I’m driving in rain at 7pm and there is lightning all around, a fear cloud surrounds me – I can imagine how those flood events would have unfolded. It makes me consider my position in the world – how insignificant we are in the face of nature.”

Many of Queensland’s optometrists were severely affected by floods and although the OAA did not seek assistance from trade companies, Mr. Johnson said that industry has been very generous. “Numerous offers have trickled in, for labour and equipment, frames and lenses as well as extended credit.

OAA Queensland has released a publication entitled ‘Queensland Floods – Optometry Responds’. The publication, which details assistance that has been offered, has been sent to members and uploaded to the OAA website; visit www.optometrists.asn.au/queensland