I sat up on Wednesday night watching the news channel, as Cyclone Yasi spun towards Queensland. The outlook grew worse as the night went on. The Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, appeared every few hours to give press briefings. She is considered to have done a sterling job dealing with the recent massive floods, and gave every sign that she was the woman for the job of fending off Yasi.
She spoke with only the barest glance at her notes, and the the message she had for Queensland was unequivocal: tomorrow we are going to wake up to a heartbreaking disaster. Lives will likely be lost. Millions of people will probably be without electricity for weeks.
I was very scared for Queensland - the sheer enormity of Yasi on the radar was like something from a disaster movie. I am not a prayerful person but every now and then in life I think: - hmm, situation calls for a couple of Hail Marys. Can't hurt.
At the same time I was transfixed by the simultaneous translator for the deaf. There have been different ones at the various briefings, but this one is the most vociferous. The juxtaposition of a) Ms Bligh speaking plainly about the great dangers on the way, and b) the clownlike facial contortions and flappy hands of the translator was surreal - especially combined with c) the completely impassive man in the middle, who I think was the head of emergency response or something like that.
I understand that there are hearing impaired people in the community with every right to as much information as everyone else. The skills of the translators are very impressive - it's an important job they are doing. But I have never before laughed out loud at the TV while I am being told that I will wake up in the morning to a disaster.
I wouldn't even be mentioning this bizarre moment of extremes, except that thanks to wonderful planning and co-ordination, and a switched-on populace who took the whole thing very seriously, there have been no direct deaths or even serious injuries attributed to Yasi as of Friday night. So, by the very precise rules of disaster-related comedy, it is in fact NOT too soon to start making fun of Yasi coverage.