18 Gustavus students return safely from Australia

Eighteen Gustavus students who were abroad in Cairns, Queensland, Australia, where a Category 5 cyclone made landfall the morning of Feb. 2 returned home Friday, Feb. 4, as originally scheduled. The storm (named Cyclone Yasi) touched down on land Wednesday morning and produced high winds and heavy rain. Cyclone Yasi was classified as a level 5 cyclone, which have winds of up to 120 miles per hour. The Gustavus students were fortunate in that the area hit the hardest was south of where they were staying.

The group stayed in a resort hotel in Cairns that local emergency officials deemed a safe location for shelter in the storm. Many students helped sandbag the area and provide first aid support in preparation for the storm’s approach. Director of International and Cultural Education Carolyn O’Grady continued to stay in regular communication via e-mail with Professor of Physics Chuck Niederriter, who led the group along with his wife, Debbie. The group was in Australia as part of an astronomy study trip. Dr. O’Grady not only stayed in contact with Niederriter, but with the American Citizen Services Unit at the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney. “Great care has been taken to make sure our students [were] safe,” O’Grady said. “We [had] total confidence in Chuck Niederriter’s leadership during the storm.” O’Grady also regularly updated parents of the students on the trip, and the Gustavus website was updated as information became available throughout the week.

A similar situation occurred last year with Gustavus students studying abroad in Peru, the natural disaster being torrential rainfall and mudslides.