Qld cyclone cleanup underway

More Australian troops are being sent to the affected region in northern Queensland, in Australia’s northeast, and helicopters and a Hercules aircraft and helping to provide food, tarpaulins and water to outlying areas.

Rain continued to fall in Innisfail on Tuesday afternoon as residents returned to assess the damage, picking their way through streets strewn with building debris.

Around half of all the houses in the town of 8,500 people have been affected, many of them with roofs ripped off entirely.

Authorities have warned it could be up to a week before electricity is restored.

Miraculously, no lives were lost in the storm, Australia’s most powerful in decades with winds of up to 290 kilometres per hour, however around 30 people suffered minor injuries.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley are to visit Innisfail on Wednesday, which has already been declared a state of emergency by Queensland Premier Peter Beattie.

Mr Beattie warned parts of the state face a “long, slow” recovery, and warned of the threat of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever.

Around 84,000 homes remain without power.

A second storm, Cyclone Wati, could reach the Queensland coast this week, said authorities.

Wati is expected to slow down and remain in offshore waters for the rest of the week, bringing gale force winds off the coast south of the area hit by Larry.

Health warnings

Patients from two north Queensland hospitals have been evacuated to Cairns due to a lack of clean running water and reliable power supplies, however the Babinda and Innisfail hospitals will remain open for emergencies only.

Queensland Health has been advising residents of cyclone-affected areas to boil their water and throw out spoiled food.

Farmers facing losses

Farmers estimate Larry has destroyed 80 percent of Australia’s banana crop, a loss valued from A$300 million.

The storm also wiped out up to 10 percent of the country’s sugar production, and affected the avocado industry.

Banana growers have already started laying off staff, with as many as 4,000 job losses in the industry predicted.

The price of bananas almost doubled overnight, and is expected to rise further.

Sugar prices on the international index showed a sharp spike after news of the cyclone broke.

Sugar farmers’ organisation Canegrowers said sugarcane worth $200 million was destroyed.

Katrina experience “helped”

Professor Tom Hardy, a cyclone expert with the Australian Maritime College, said the experience of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated areas in the southern US last August and killed more than 1,000 people, probably helped save north Queenslanders’ lives.

“I think that the big hurricanes in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico this last year made people realise ‘Oh my gosh, that can happen here’,” Prof Hardy told AAP.

“Whereas if this happened a year ago, I think there would have been a few people (asked to evacuate) who would’ve said ‘No, I’m just going to stay here, I’ve lived here for 20 years and nothing’s happened’.

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