Queensland mops up after Cyclone Larry's billion dollar devastation

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cyclone Larry - March 19 2006 - Source BOM

Areas in far north Queensland remain without electricity, running water or sewerage after Category 5 Cyclone Larry hit the coast on Monday morning. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has declared a state of emergency in Innisfail and says he is worried about the outbreak of diseases. Army engineers are among more than 1,000 people assisting in Queensland's cyclone relief effort.

Premier Beattie says it could be more than a week before power is restored in Innisfail. "The whole bloody place is blown apart... this is going to be a long, slow recovery," he said.

Larry caused widespread damage as it crossed the coast south of Cairns, with winds of up to 290km/h (180 mph). Thousands of buildings were damaged and most of the Australia's banana crop has been destroyed. Thousands of kilometres of power lines were brought down. Many key roads are flooded.

State Emergency Service volunteers are putting tarpaulins on damaged homes. "Some homes will need complete rebuilding and that will take many months. But right now let's get the bandaids out and get people settled as much as we can and then start the serious rebuilding of the Innisfail area." said Kathryn Ryan, from the Disaster Management Group

Hospitals are unable to cope with the lack of clean running water and reliable power supplies. There are concerns about outbreaks of dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases. "Our main concern is with the quality of the drinking water, the quality of people's food supplies and any health risks from inundation by water," a health spokesman said.

Queensland Health Minister Jim Guthrie says there is no electricity in Innisfail, the hardest hit town in Cyclone Larry's path. "It's just too difficult to keep the hospital operating," he said. "There's no mains power but they're also having trouble with generators - there's a lack of fuel."

The region's banana, sugar cane and avocado farm industries will need rebuilding. Jan Davis, of fruit growers' group Growcom, says Cyclone Larry will have widespread effects on the fruit industry.

Among supplies flowing in were nearly 10,500 gallons of water and 6,000 in-flight meals provided by Qantas. Troops also set up a water purification unit, and health authorities warned residents to boil their water. "There most certainly would be around 7,000 people … that are effectively homeless," Federal Minister Bob Katter told The Associated Press. "They're sitting in four walls but no roof." Some 17,000 homes were blacked out in Cairns.

Ergon Energy Regional services manager Geoff Bowes says generators have been sent to Innisfail to provide power for sewerage works and some supermarkets and extra staff have been flown in from Brisbane and Townsville. "Nothing could prepare us for this," he said.

The Australian reports that building industry and government sources have estimated the cost of Larry as "one of Australia's most costly natural disasters, with a damage bill expected to exceed $1.5 billion."

So far there have been no deaths or major injuries reported. Forecasters have warned of more wild weather for Queensland, with a second cyclone expected to approach the coast later this week. The Bureau of Meteorology say Tropical Cyclone Wati is moving towards the west-northwest at 13 km per hour and should gradually intensify over the next 24 hours.

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