Anger over slow cyclone aid

There are reports that trucks full of supplies were left stranded on the side of flooded highways, and residents in the worst-hit town of Innisfail said they have been forced to queue for hours for the second day in a row, to access welfare assistance.

There have also been some reports of looting in the town, however police said they have received no reports of break-ins, according to an AP report.

This comes as it was announced that former chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, will lead the Cyclone Larry Taskforce.

Emergency services have appealed to residents for patience and understanding, as tired, hungry and uncertain victims lashed out at visiting politicians and volunteers, demanding quicker access to relief.

Prime Minister John Howard, who on Wednesday toured the area with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, defended the relief effort.

“If you don’t have power, if you don’t have running water, you think your job may have gone, your house has lost its roof, your furniture destroyed, flood damaged and water damaged, you feel pretty tense and that’s very understandable,” he told ABC radio.

“With all the will and resources in the world, there’s a physical limit to how quickly you can restore power,” Howard said. “You’ve got to keep your sense of priorities and your sense of humour.”

Mr Beattie acknowledged the clean-up effort was slow, but said bad weather prevented airlifts of supplies earlier.

“This was a category five cyclone, for God’s sake, it just blew everything away,” he told the ABC.

“Helicopters couldn’t fly until late Monday night … I understand that there will be criticism, and that’s an important part, a safety valve in all this, but nothing could’ve been done quicker than has been done,” he said.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been working closely with other emergency agencies in Innisfail and Babinda to provide food and other supplies.

Mother of three AnnMaree King, 43, who lives eight kilometres from Tully, likened the region to war-torn Somalia, saying there was “debris everywhere”.

“It’s very sad here at the moment, people are getting cranky,” Ms King told AAP, as she stood in line at the Innisfail courthouse, eager to snare emergency packages and money from welfare agency Centrelink.

She said people in isolated areas are desperate.

“We live eight kilometres out of town and no one has gone out to the farms and seen if people are all right, no nothing, their phone lines are down,” Ms King said.

Insurance companies said they have so far received about 4,000 claims worth around A$90 million.

Wati moving south

Category-three Tropical Cyclone Wati is beginning to move south instead of west, meaning there is less chance of it lashing the affected region.

The Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre said the new storm is predicted to remain offshore until the end of the week.

Environmental impact

Authorities said Cyclone Larry may have left a trail of damage 150kms wide through the Great Barrier Reef and stripped bare 95 percent of rainforests where it struck the coast.

It is feared coral in sections of the Great Barrier Reef may have been reduced to rubble, while once-lush rainforests in the Innisfail and Mission Beach areas are thought to have been badly damaged.

Dr David Wachenfeld, of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), said it had not yet been possible to survey the damage caused to reefs off Innisfail.

But the extent of damage it may have caused could be measured against last year’s similar strength storm, Cyclone Ingrid, he said.

“Tropical Cyclone Larry has likely created a band of severe damage about 20km to 30km wide,” Dr Wachenfeld said.

“All of the fragile animals, especially corals, that live attached to the seabed will have been adversely affected by the cyclone.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) northern regional director Clive Cook said Larry had also caused “extreme” damage to the north’s rainforests.

“We think that there’s probably less than five per cent vegetation cover in most areas where the cyclone came ashore, in particular around Mission Beach, Innisfail and Palmerston,” he said.

“Because it knocks the vegetation around so much it will provide an ideal recruitment area for invasive species, climbers and so forth and it changes the composition of the rainforest quite markedly.”

Mr Cook said the extent of wildlife fatalities was still unknown.

Authorities plan to conduct surveys of reef and rainforests in affected areas in coming weeks.

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