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Queensland: report on the devastation caused by cyclone Larry.

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Monday 20 March 2006

Queensland: report on the devastation caused by cyclone Larry


MARK COLVIN: Authorities in Queensland still can't estimate the full extent of the damag e from one of the worst cyclones ever to hit the State. 


About a thousand people in north Queensland were evacuated overnight as Cyclone Larry headed for the coast. 


This morning it hit with devastating force, battering the coastline from Cairns to Mission Beach. 


Remarkably, there are no reports of lives lost or of critical injuries, but the damage to homes and infrastructure is extensive. 


One of the worst hit towns is Innisfail, where authorities say half the homes have been damaged and at least a third have lost their roofs; some have completely collapsed. 


This report from Melanie Christiansen begins our coverage. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: Winds of up to 290 kilometres lashed the north Queensland coast this morning as the Category 5 cyclone hit. Shirine Barba took refuge at the Innisfail Hotel. 


SHIRINE BARBA: It was terrible. It really was terrible. It was scary. Oh, just horrible. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: And the horror continues.  


As the winds have abated, north Queenslanders have emerged to find devastation.  


Kathryn Ryan works for Counter Disaster Services in north Queensland. Today she began driving from Cairns, south towards Innisfail with the disaster assessment teams. As she passed through the coastal community of Babinda, she was shocked. 


KATHRYN RYAN: Babinda has been hit really hard by this cyclone. Just about every house has some sort of damage. There's debris all over the road, there's trees down everywhere and people are really, yeah, you know, have been hit very hard out there. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: Just a short drive south of Babinda is Innisfail. The Queensland Premier Peter Beattie this afternoon delivered this grim assessment of the damage there. 


PETER BEATTIE: Damage reported at Hudson community in Innisfail, about a third of the houses reported have lost their roofs. Innisfail Hospital sustained severe damage but no injuries to staff or patients. There've been five minor injuries - this is in the Innisfail area - that cover cuts and bruises. There's widespread structural damage it's reported on housing and local businesses. Damage consists of mostly roof damage, however, reports indicated that some houses have completely collapsed.  


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: The Innisfail Hotel where Shirine Barba took refuge is one of those that's been badly damaged. 


SHIRINE BARBA: Where we are, we were sort of right in the path of the cyclone, as the winds came through the town we were… it sort of just come, and oh, it just ripped the verandahs down off the hotel and roofs were flying everywhere; all the tin's still laying outside. And I've just gone upstairs and had a look through the hotel and it's just devastation. It's terrible. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: What does it look like? What's been damaged? 


SHIRINE BARBA: Everything. All the rooms, water's just leaking right through because all the roofs were lifted off. And we've had long time guests here and they've just lost everything. Very heartbreaking it is.  


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: Smaller coastal communities too have suffered extensive damage.  


Travelling south from Innisfail is Kurrimine Beach. Caryn Coutts lives on a 15-acre property outside of the town. After spending the night at a motel with her three young children she went home this afternoon to see what's left standing. 


CARYN COUTTS: Well there's acreage, but there's not really much of a house. It's got half a roof and everything is on the floor. All my doors have pushed out. Yet there's some things like my kitchen buffet that hasn't been touched. The glasses are still sitting in one spot just with water in them. It was terrible. Devastating really - walking into your own possessions to see that there's half of it left.  


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: Further south again, Lorraine Clark is also devastated. 


LORRAINE CLARK: Well we're at Bingal Bay which is just north of Mission Beach. It started about… the winds about one, two o'clock this morning. And it's just been really, really, really scary.  


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: Have you had a chance at all to look outside? 


LORRAINE CLARK: Oh yes, the trees are just decimated. It's a bit like a lunar landscape really. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: The Premier Peter Beattie is in Mackay, just south of the disaster area. He's worried that communities trying to cope with such extensive devastation could be without power for up to a week. One of the main electricity cables has gone down in an area of tropical rainforest that's difficult to get to.  


Mr Beattie says the Government is trying to generators to Innisfail but that's proving difficult.  


PETER BEATTIE: There are major power outages, not just in Innisfail, but in Cairns and across the region. The remote generators are being set up from Brisbane. The big issue for us is to try and get them from Townsville into Innisfail because there are problems with the rail link and roads, both of which are obviously impaired in some way. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: The Defence Force is also on standby to help out.  


Defence Minister Brendan Nelson: 


BRENDAN NELSON: We in first instance will be providing some helicopters to do reconnaissance with army people who have expertise in assessing damage. We want to have look at what actually has to be done and once we've done that, then in consultation of course with the Queensland Emergency Services we'll make heavy airlift available should it be necessary. 


MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: But while for many the focus is now on assessing the damage in coastal communities, Peter Reikers from Counter Disaster Services has warned the danger from Cyclone Larry isn't over yet. 


PETER REIKERS: Keep following that line west across from the Atherton Tablelands, you're heading up towards Chillagoe, perhaps as south as Georgetown, across to Croydon, Normanton and right across to Karumba on the other side there, over in the Gulf of Carpentaria. So all of those areas and anywhere in between is likely to feel some effects of this cyclone.  


MARK COLVIN: Peter Reikers from Counter Disaster and Rescue Services, ending Melanie Christiansen's report.