Simon Winchester at Lapham's Quarterly:
Haiyan, the admiral might have pointed out, was only the latest storm in a sequence of climatological disasters that had started to spiral out of control as much as four decades before. The first in this cycle of catastrophes occurred south of the equator and flattened the Australian city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974. It was named Cyclone Tracy, and there has never been a more destructive event in all of Australian history.
Ten thousand of Darwin’s houses—80 percent of the city’s homes—were destroyed. They were nearly instantly demolished, reduced almost to matchwood and pulverized concrete. The process was identical, house after Christmas-decorated house. First the roof was ripped off its stanchions and whirled away into the rain-soaked night. Then the windows shattered, slicing people with slivers of glass. The walls would next blow out—people would speak of running in darkness and panic from room to room, locating by feel the bathroom doors and racing inside in the belief that the smallest room would be the strongest—only to find the outside wall gone, exposed to the darkness beyond, a frenzy of gales and rain.
Everything failed. The telephones were out. Electricity was down. Antennas were blown down. Aircraft had been tossed about like chaff, smashed beyond recognition. Ships broke loose in the harbor, and sank or drifted far from their moorings, useless. Scores of people who might have helped were away for the Christmas holiday. The broadcast stations had only skeleton crews and no light or water—though one of them, the local Australian Broadcasting Corporation station, managed to get messages out to an affiliate station in the Queensland outback.