INNISFAIL, Australia – Soldiers carried aid to the cyclone-shattered town of Innisfail today as residents picked through streets littered with rubble and mangled roofs destroyed by one of Australia’s most powerful cyclones in decades.
Troop trucks rumbled through the streets of Innisfail, the town of 8,500 that bore the brunt of category-5 Cyclone Larry when it slammed into the coast of northeast Australia just before dawn Monday. By today, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm.
Amazingly, the storm caused no reported fatalities, and only 30 people suffered minor injuries.
Reporters who flew into Innisfail today saw scenes of devastation – rain forest shredded by the winds, acres of sugar and banana plantations flattened, the trees and cane on the ground next to their stumps, pointing in the direction that the cyclone tore past.
“It looks like it’s just been napalmed,” said helicopter pilot Ian Harris. “That’s normally pristine rain forest.”
An apartment block with its roof torn off looked from the air like a doll’s house.
The town’s main street was littered with rubble from badly damaged buildings and the corrugated metal used for roofing in the region. In some parts of the street people waded through knee-deep water.
Stephen Young, deputy executive director of Queensland’s Counter Disaster and Emergency Services, said relief was flowing to Innisfail from all over Australia. About 120 troops were helping deliver aid – including nearly 10,500 gallons of water, 6,000 in-flight meals provided by national flag carrier Qantas – while cleanup and specialist urban search and rescue crews were heading to the town.
Prime Minister John Howard pledged today that his administration would help shattered communities rebuild. Queensland state political leader Premier Peter Beattie said it could take days to restore power and water supplies to Innisfail, a farming town about 60 miles south of the major tourist town of Cairns.
There was no official count of the homeless, but given the number of homes badly damaged, the figure could run into the thousands, said Neil Clarke, mayor of Johnstone Shire, which includes Innisfail.
The casualty toll was so low because people left town or went to shelters after authorities posted warnings. Residents and officials were mindful of the damage Hurricane Katrina did last August, said Ben Creagh, a spokesman for Queensland state Department of Emergency Services.
“There was absolutely no complacency at the planning level at all, and I think that shows,” he said.