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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 03:21 GMT
Australia begins cyclone clean-up
A man outside damaged shops on the main street in Innisfail, Queensland
Government help has been promised for families left homeless
A clean-up operation is under way on the north-east Australian coast hit by a powerful tropical cyclone on Monday.

Tropical Cyclone Larry smashed into Queensland at Innisfail, about 100km (60 miles) south of Cairns, tearing off roofs and leaving thousands homeless.

Queensland state leader Peter Beattie predicted a "long, slow recovery" but praised emergency services' response.

Troops began moving aid into Innisfail on Tuesday, as residents picked their way through the debris-filled streets.

Packing winds of up to 290km/h (180mph), the category five storm hit the coast early on Monday, flattening homes, uprooting trees and destroying sugar and banana crops.

I just think it says a lot about us as Australians
Queensland leader Peter Beattie

About a dozen people sustained minor injuries but no-one was killed. A state of emergency has been declared.

Speaking from Innisfail, about 95km (60 miles) south of Cairns, Mr Beattie said food, clean water, power generators and tarpaulins would be delivered to affected areas on Tuesday.

"The whole bloody place is blown apart and [the emergency services and local communities are] standing there fixing it up," he said. "I just think it says a lot about us as Australians."

He said the bill for the cyclone was likely to run into tens of millions of dollars.

Warning it would be long road to recovery in some parts of the state, Mr Beattie urged residents to consider leaving until essential services were restored.

Officials said it could be a week before power was restored to more than 80,000 homes left without electricity.

Relief pledge

Prime Minister John Howard has pledged help for the affected areas.

It was like the sound of a steam train coming across the bay - it was terrifying
Innisfail resident Cherelle Skelly

He promised emergency relief aid for families made homeless by the cyclone and said he would visit the region on Wednesday.

"We are not going to leave people swinging because of a natural disaster," Mr Howard told the Nine television network.

US President George W Bush telephoned Mr Howard to offer his sympathies over the devastation caused by the cyclone, the White House said.

"Prime Minister Howard thanked the president for his concern for the Australian people and noted that it was appreciated," a White House spokesman said.

Katrina lessons

Australian officials - keen to avoid the criticism that followed the US government's response to Hurricane Katrina - began issuing warnings about the storm on Saturday.

Map of northern Queensland

Queensland State Emergency Service spokesman Ben Creagh said they had studied the lessons from Katrina and there had been "no complacency" in their planning.

Homeless people are being housed in government-run shelters and efforts are under way to repair sewerage systems and restore water supplies.

A spokesman for Australia's attorney general said troops were moving tarpaulins into Innisfail to cover houses that had lost their roofs.

The area is an important centre for Australia's banana and sugar cane industries and farmers say production has been badly hit.

The Australian Banana Growers' Council said 80% of the country's banana crop had been wiped out and as many as 4,000 plantation workers could lose their jobs.

Innisfail banana grower Brian McElhinney told Reuters news agency the cyclone had destroyed his entire crop.

The storm was initially a category five - the strongest possible - but was downgraded to a category four shortly after it crossed the coastline.

See the damage caused by Cyclone Larry

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