Monday, March 20, 2006
Frightened residents of far north Queensland have told of the terrible power of Cyclone Larry, which left a trail of destruction as it made landfall.
Roofs were torn off buildings and trees flattened as the most destructive part of the storm hammered the coast near Innisfail, south of Cairns, bringing winds of up to 290kph.
"It's just frightening. I don't get scared much but this is something to make any man tremble in his boots," said Innisfail resident Des Hensler.
Bruce Gunn from the Cyclone Warning Centre said it was one of the biggest cyclones ever seen.
"We haven't had a cyclone of this category cross the coast in a populated area for quite a long time," he told ABC radio.
"It's a very grave situation."
There were early, unconfirmed, reports of some casualties in Cairns and some people were feared missing, the weather bureau said.
Residents were warned to stay inside to avoid injury by flying debris.
Cyclone Larry hit the Queensland coast as a maximum category five storm, but was later downgraded to a category four as it headed inland, where it was expected to weaken
o add to the region's concern, a second cyclone, Wati, has formed behind Larry but was near Vanuatu, still days away from hitting the Australian coast.
Millions of dollars worth of sugar and banana crops have already been wiped out by Cyclone Larry, and Johnstone Shire Council deputy mayor George Parvan said many farmers would be plunged into financial ruin for up to 18 months.
He said Larry was far worse that Cyclone Winifred, which struck south of Innisfail in February 1986, destroying 50 homes and damaging hundreds of others, killing three and injuring 20.
Prime Minister John Howard says the federal government and the military will do everything possible to help victims of Cyclone Larry.
Mr Howard said he had spoken with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and they had agreed to work together on the relief effort.
Mr Howard said he was "very confident" the cyclone would not result in the chaos seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
"You are never totally prepared for something like this, but I am impressed that people have already been evacuated," he said.
"Australians are very good at responding to these things because everybody pitches in." Mr Hensler said the cyclone was the most frightening storm he had seen in the "35 to 40" years he had lived in far north Queensland.
He said he was sheltering alone in a church, with water up to his ankles, "just standing in a place where I'm not going to get killed".
"A tree has just fallen on a house, (and there's a) street light actually touching the ground, that's how strong the wind is," he told the Seven Network.
"There's a grey sheet of water, horizontal to the ground, and just taking everything in its path.
"And believe me, it's taking everything ... it is totally scary."
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