From UK COVID hotspot to Texas ice storm, desperate Australian couple scrambles to find a way home

An Australian couple has been forced from COVID-wracked London to a frozen Texas in a desperate attempt to find a way home through a tangle of international pandemic travel restrictions.

What started as a patient wait to return home to Swan Hill, Victoria, has turned into a “cruel” experience for Sarah Reynolds-Ryan and husband Jackson, some of the thousands of Australians stranded overseas since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

They were due to arrive in Melbourne from the United Kingdom on Monday after booking tickets two months ago, quitting jobs and giving up their flat.

But Victoria’s snap five-day coronavirus lockdown meant flights to Victoria were cancelled and Qatar Airways offered no immediate alternative destinations in Australia.

Ms Reynolds-Ryan said the next flight to Australia with any airline was to Brisbane on April 5.

“We just couldn’t wait that long,” Ms Reynolds-Ryan said.

“When we booked tickets [after international flights to Victoria reopened in December], we handed in our notice for our jobs and our flat. We started packing up our lives and selling things off.

With no options to return to Australia and no home or work in the UK, Ms Reynolds-Ryan, a dual US citizen, opted to fly with her partner to the US to stay with an aunt in Denton, Texas.

They are now riding out a storm emergency that has sent temperatures plummeting across the US and living without health care in a state that has recorded 2.58 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Ms Reynolds-Ryan said she hoped there would be more frequent flights to Australia from the US, which has not yet recorded large numbers of the more contagious UK variant of COVID-19.

“Our plan is to be in Texas until we can get home, but my husband is here on a three-month ESTA visa, so the clock is really ticking,” she said.

Ms Reynolds-Ryan said she was also concerned about vaccines becoming mandatory for travellers on US airlines.

She said her husband could face an extensive wait to receive a vaccine because, as an Australian, US citizens would take priority.

“We just want to come home,” she said.

Ms Reynolds-Ryan said the duo, who moved to London to live and work in mid-2019, first started trying to get home at the start of the pandemic in March as international flights were cancelled.

She said a lack of assistance from the federal government had been “draining and demoralising”.

“As citizens, we feel abandoned by the government,” she said.

“Of course we support the quarantine system — the government has to protect its citizens from COVID-19.

“But we’re Victorians too. I think the lack of options for arrivals is over the top and unnecessarily cruel.”

Sarah’s mother Laura Ryan, who owns a Swan Hill hotel, said it was heartbreaking to be separated from her daughter in the middle of a global crisis.

“We just feel really let down,” she said.

“Could we not have diverted flights? Could we not have said that people who had flights during the five-day [lockdown] would be allowed to land and go into a stricter quarantine?

Announcing the five-day lockdown last week, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said there needed to be a “cold, hard discussion” about the number of people coming into Australia as the number of more contagious UK and South African variants of COVID-19 cases grows.

“It’s not for me to make announcements about how many Australians get to come back to Australia,” he said.

“That’s for the federal government. What I’m saying is the game has changed

“Should it be a much smaller program that’s based on compassionate grounds? That’s a conversation we should have.”

The state and federal governments were contacted for further comment.

Ms Reynolds-Ryan said she was worried by Mr Andrews’s comments.

“We’re worried about the idea of us having to apply to come home on compassionate grounds,” Ms Reynolds-Ryan said.

“We’ve emailed the embassy and DFAT a number of times and gotten no response.

“The vulnerable are already not being prioritised in any way.”

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NRL 2021: Injuries, trial games, Harry Grant, Storm, Joseph Suaalii, Roosters, casualty ward, teams Round 1

Melbourne young gun Harry Grant will likely need scans on a knee injured during Saturday’s trial game against Newcastle in Albury.

Grant limped off the field during the game with a ligament injury in his knee and could miss the start of the NRL season.

“He’s done a medial so I doubt if he’s going to be ready for Round 1,” Storm coach Bellamy said post-match.

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Round 1

“I’m not quite sure, it’s probably three or four weeks I’d think, medials usually are.

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Storm Leaves Layer of Hail on Seattle Streets

A storm in Washington State left a layer of hail on Seattle streets on February 26, when local residents also reported seeing lightning. This footage shows hail falling on Friday evening. A layer is already visible on the street hail continues to patter down. On Friday evening, the National Weather Service (NWS) said it received reports of hail and lightning “around Whidbey Island,” located north of Seattle. The NWS’ Seattle office reported hearing thunder on Feb 26 as well. Credit: @slkfw via Storyful

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Ethnic communities cook up a storm

“They’ve dressed up ever since they were little,” she said.

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Joe Biden travels to Texas amid recovery effort from deadly winter storm

President Joe Biden heard firsthand from Texans impacted by this month”s extreme winter weather on Friday and pledged to stick with them “for the long haul” as he made his first trip to a major disaster area since he took office.

Biden was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing “God’s work”. He promised the federal government will be there for Texans as they try to recover, not just from the historic storm but also the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it’s not a Republican or Democrat that’s hurting,” Biden said. “It’s our fellow Americans that are hurting and it’s our job to help everyone in need”.

With tens of thousands of Houston area residents without safe water, local officials told Biden that many are still struggling. While he was briefed, first lady Jill Biden joined an assembly line of volunteers packing boxes of quick oats, juice, and other food at the Houston Food Bank, where he arrived later.

The president’s first stop was the Harris County Emergency Operations Center for a briefing from acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and state and local emergency management officials.

More than a million still boiling water

Texas was hit particularly hard by the St Valentine’s weekend storm that battered multiple states. Unusually frigid conditions led to widespread power outages and frozen pipes that burst and flooded homes. Millions of residents lost heat and running water.

At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm and, although the weather has returned to more normal temperatures, more than 1 million residents are still under orders to boil water before drinking it.

“The president has made very clear to us that in crises like this, it is our duty to organise prompt and competent federal support to American citizens, and we have to ensure that bureaucracy and politics do not stand in the way,” said Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, who accompanied Biden to Houston.

Biden was joined for much of his visit by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Senator John Cornyn, both Republicans, four Democratic Houston-area members of Congress and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

The president also stopped by a mass coronavirus vaccination centre at NRG Stadium that is run by the federal government. Biden commemorated the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination since he took office on Thursday, halfway toward his goal of 100 million shots by his 100th day in office. That celebration followed a moment of silence to mark the passage earlier this week of 500,000 US deaths blamed on the disease.

Democrat Biden suggested that he and Republicans Abbott and Cornyn could find common cause in getting Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“We disagree on plenty of things,” Biden said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are plenty of things we can work on together. And one of them is represented right here today, the effort to speed up vaccinations”.

Texas’ other US senator, Ted Cruz, an ally of former President Donald Trump and one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who had objected to Congress certifying Biden’s victory, was in Florida Friday addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Cruz, who has been criticised for taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, while millions of Texans shivered in unheated homes, later said the trip was a mistake, but he made light of the controversy on Friday. “Orlando is awesome,” he said to laughs and hoots. “It’s not as nice as Cancun. But it’s nice.”

At the peak of the storm, more than 1.4 million residents were without power and 3.5 million were under boil-water notices in Houston’s Harris County, the nation’s third-largest county.

Debate over Texas’ energy supply

The post-storm debate in Texas has centred on the state maintaining its own electrical grid and its lack of better storm preparation, including weather-proofing key infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the blackouts on renewable energy even though Texas relies heavily on oil and gas.

In Washington DC, Biden’s climate advisor said the deadly winter storm was a “wake-up call” for the United States to build energy systems that can withstand extreme weather linked to climate change.

“We need systems of energy that are reliable and resilient,” Gina McCarthy said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The White House said Biden’s purpose in visiting was to support, not scold.

Biden was bent on asking Texans “what do you need, how can I help you more,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “And what can we get more for you from the federal government”.

Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to aid the recovery. The FEMA has sent emergency generators, bottled water, ready-to-eat meals, and blankets.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in an interview that he didn’t know what more the federal government could do to help because the failures were at the state level. But Henry, a Republican who is the highest county official in the suburban Houston county, said that if Biden “thinks it’s important to visit, then come on down”.

Biden wanted to make the trip last week, but said at the time that he held back because he didn’t want his presence and entourage to detract from the recovery effort.

Houston also was the destination for Trump’s first presidential visit to a disaster area in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding that August.

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US winter storm: Sea turtles rescued in Texas released back into ocean on slides | US News

Thousands of turtles have been released back into the sea after they were rescued during the winter storm that hit Texas and other southern states.

Last week, freezing temperatures cold-stunned the creatures and impacted their ability to swim or feed – resulting in a massive rescue mission to save them.

Now, video footage from Texas Sealife Centre shows the turtles being released down a wet slide into the Gulf of Mexico.

Thousands of turtles have been released back into the ocean. Pic: Sea Turtle Inc

The organisation cared for almost a thousand of the marine creatures after the storm brought record cold temperatures to the Lone Star State.

Jamie McWilliams from Texas Sealife Centre said around 200 turtles were released into the sea on Monday.

Another organisation, Sea Turtle Inc, also shared footage of thousands of sea turtles being released into the Gulf down blue wet slides.

It said that “thousands of community members bundled up and volunteered long hours” to aid in the rescue. “Many with no electricity, water, or warmth in their own homes still assisted Sea Turtle Inc.”

Residents, some of whom didn’t have heat or basic amenities in their own homes due to the unusually chilly weather, rescued the cold-stunned sea turtles and dropped them off at a convention centre last week.

Pic: South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau
Residents took car loads of the creatures to South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau in the hope of saving them

“Every 15 minutes or less there’s another truck or SUV that pulls up,” said Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He said people were bringing one or two sea turtles, and sometimes more. “We had trailers full… coming in that had 80, 100, 50,” he said.

The convention centre started receiving the turtles after its neighbour, Sea Turtle Inc, became overwhelmed with the numbers being brought in.

Pic: South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau
There were fears some of the sea turtles would not survive

Mr Caum said they had “collected” more than 3,500 sea turtles, but said he hesitated to use the word rescued because “we know we’re going to lose some”.

The extreme winter weather prompted US President Joe Biden to declare a major disaster in Texas.

The state’s power grid was crippled due to the cold, and, despite Texas being rich in oil and gas, millions of residents were without power for days.

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. Customers waited over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks. Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Texas is not accustomed to such cold temperatures and was unprepared. Pic: AP

There have been major disruptions to water supply, with more than 1,200 public water systems having problems.

More than 7.9 million people in Texas in 202 counties were still having issues with their water supply as of Monday evening, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said.

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Joseph Suaalii is already doing ‘what 10-year first-graders wish they could do’, says Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm great Cooper Cronk

“Latrell Mitchell had to bide his time a bit and jumped the queue with his physicality and ability, but the Roosters really looked after him in a lot of ways and reaped the rewards a few years down the track. I’d imagine they’ll do something similar with Joseph.”

The Roosters have made it know they will approach the ARL Commission about seeking an exemption for Suaalii to play in the NRL before he turns 18.

While there are still concerns whether Suaalii has the physical and mental maturity to handle playing against men, Cronk said: “Let’s be honest, 17-year-olds won’t be coming off the conveyor belt wanting to play every year.

Roosters young gun Joseph Suaalii.Credit:Roosters Digital

“There’s no age when you should or shouldn’t play. Look at what Cameron Smith did last year [at 37]. Age is just a number.

“But we also have to be careful to expose these young men to the rigours of NRL football and all of the things that go with it, including social media, which is big these days.”

Suaalii has already tried to put a shot on Sydney Roosters teammate Joey Manu and jokingly told him: “I’m going to take your spot”.

“The best thing about him is how humble he is off the field,” Manu said. “He’s nice to everybody. He’s still at school and does his homework before training.

“He’s really big for a 17-year-old. He’s been training mostly at centre, but he’s also spent a bit of time at fullback and on the wing. He can do all the positions.

“He keeps trying to tell me he’s going to take my spot, but I’m like, ‘Not yet buddy, not yet’.

“Hopefully he gets a few games this year. With injuries and Origin, hopefully he gets a run. I’m keen to see how he goes.

“He’s fast, fit and strong. He’s got good agility, he can step off both feet and has a good passing game – you can tell he’s from rugby union with his spiral passing. He can kick, too.”

Not afraid to stamp his authority, Suaalii put a big tackle on Manu, to which the Kiwi international said: “He got me, too. I was down for a bit.”

Suaalii was at the centre of a tug of war between Rugby Australia and South Sydney before the Roosters snuck under both their guards to pinch his services.


Suaalii will play for the Roosters’ feeder team, North Sydney, at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan next Saturday afternoon.

Suaalii was named in Brad Fittler’s Emerging Blues squad despite having no NRL experience and has already popped up on the radar of Samoa, the country he is eligible to represent on the international stage, something that could happen this year before he is genuinely ready for the Kangaroos.

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US Senator Ted Cruz says it was a mistake to holiday in Mexico while Texas faced a deadly winter storm

US Senator Ted Cruz has flown into a storm of criticism after leaving his home state of Texas in the grip of a deadly deep freeze, for a family holiday jaunt to the Mexican resort of Cancun he said he took to please his young daughters.

“It was obviously a mistake. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” the 50-year-old Republican told reporters as he returned to Houston on Thursday.

Mr Cruz said he had planned to stay through the weekend but had second thoughts “almost the moment I sat down on the plane”.

In text messages obtained by American Bridge, a Democratic political group, Cruz’s wife Heidi asked neighbours whether they wanted to accompany the family to Cancun.

“Anyone can or want to leave for the week?” she wrote, noting that rooms at the city’s Ritz Carlton cost “$309 plus tax.”

With millions of Texans grappling with the fallout from a ferocious winter storm, Mr Cruz, who ran for president in 2016 and is viewed as a presidential hopeful in 2024, faced condemnation after photos on social media showed him in an airport line, in a passenger lounge, aboard an airliner and leaving Cancun airport in Mexico.

Some critics slammed his comments blaming his daughters, aged 10 and 12, for his decision to visit the resort, where the weather was a balmy 26 degrees Celsius on Thursday evening.

The Texas Democratic Party called on him to resign.

Demonstrators stand in front of US Senator Ted Cruz’s home demanding his resignation, Thursday, Feb 18, 2021, in Houston

Houston Chronicle

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking before Mr Cruz was spotted at Cancun airport, said tongue-in-cheek: “I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House.”

Millions of Texans remained paralysed by power and water outages after a winter storm and freezing temperatures that hampered efforts to restore full power.

“We need to be here, we need to be in the battle, we need to be helping Texans,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told MSNBC when asked about Mr Cruz.

In December, Mr Cruz criticised Austin, Texas, Mayor Stephen Adler on Twitter for taking a trip to Mexico in December while telling others not to travel during the pandemic.

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The Cameron Smith era at the Melbourne Storm is officially over

Cameron Smith has officially handed the captaincy torch over at Melbourne Storm and it’s going go take two men to fill the legendary skipper’s boots.

Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane have been confirmed as co-captains after serving as long-time deputies to Smith, who, despite not making any formal announcements, won’t play at the NRL premiers any more.

Smith had been outright captain of Storm since 2008 and was the game’s longest serving captain before moving to Queensland following last year’s Grand Final win, where he is still considering his future in the NRL.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy conceded it was “very unlikely” Smith, who has been linked to the Gold Coast Titans, would return to Melbourne, but while the door remains open, it’s unlikely the future immortal will step through it.

Finucane and Bromwich will officially lead out the team together for the first time in the NRL season opener against South Sydney at AAMI Park on Thursday, March 11.

Bromwich, 31, made his debut for Storm in 2010 and has played 248 matches, headlined by three grand final wins (2012, 2017, 2020).

He has previously captained Storm in Smith’s absence on six occasions and led New Zealand in the 2016 Four Nations tournament and 2017 Anzac Test.

Finucane, 29, played his 200th NRL match in last season’s finals series and has lined up in 135 games for Melbourne since joining the club from Canterbury in 2015.

He has played in six grand finals for two premiership victories (2017 and 2020), made his State of Origin debut for New South Wales in 2019 and again featured in the 2020 Origin series at the end of last season.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said Finucane and Bromwich had demonstrated their leadership qualities on and off the field for a number of seasons.

“Jesse and Dale were identified some time ago as possible future captains of our club,” he said.

“Through our leadership program, they have progressed and developed their leadership skills, especially in the last couple of years, and have had a great captain to learn from in Cameron Smith, who was a wonderful leader of our team for so many years.”

Bellay labelled Smith the “the best captain the game has seen in modern times”.

“With it now being very unlikely that Cameron will be part of Storm this year, now is the right time to promote Dale and Jesse to the joint captaincy role to take our club into the future,” he said.

Storm will have a six-man leadership group in 2020 including Cameron Munster, Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch.

Hooker Harry Grant, who is set to take over Smith’s on-field position after returning from a year on loan to the Wests Tigers, was also included in Storm’s emerging leaders group.

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Storm forced to move trial as Newcastle Knights refuse to travel to Melbourne

Storm chief executive Justin Rodski said his club was disappointed but had to do all it could to prepare the side for its premiership defence.

Rodski also said the Knights’ decision will have no impact on the Storm hosting the opening game of the NRL season when South Sydney visit AAMI Park on March 11.

“It’s obviously disappointing the Knights have decided not to travel to Melbourne for this trial – for our fans and for our players,” Rodski said.

“Our members and fans haven’t had the chance to see their team play live in Victoria for over 12 months and we were looking forward to having another great crowd attend Casey Fields next weekend.

“While it is disappointing for our fans in Melbourne, it is important that our players get the chance to prepare as best they can for the season ahead which is why we will travel to Albury for the trial.

“We appreciate the support the Casey Council have provided over the last two years on trial matches and have agreement from the Knights that they will return for the trial in 2022.

“The change also gives us the opportunity to say thanks to the people of Albury after they supported us through the early part of the 2020 season.

“We hope as many members and fans as possible can make it to the game and support us once again.”

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