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Northeastern Australia starts cyclone clean-up

Written by: Staff
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INNISFAIL, Australia, Mar 21 (Reuters) Australia's northeast coast picked up the pieces today after a cyclone with winds topping 290 kph (180 mph) ripped roofs off homes, decimated the nation's sugar and banana crops and uprooted trees.

Astonishingly, there were no deaths and only some minor injuries as Cyclone Larry, one of Australia's most powerful cyclones, left a trail of destruction along 300 km of coast south of the tourist centre of Cairns on Monday morning.

The maximum category five storm may have cut raw sugar production by the world's third-largest exporter by 500,000 tonnes, or 10 percent, while about 90 percent of Australia's banana production was also believed to have been wiped out, industry groups said.

But as emergency services, troops and local communities surveyed the damage from Larry, another storm, Cyclone Wati, was brewing about 1,000 km east of Cairns at category two strength, Australia's Ttropical Cyclone Warning Centre said.

''It is moving towards the west at 20 kph and should gradually intensify over the next 24 hours. Wati is expected to maintain this track until tomorrow morning when it will slow down and remain in offshore waters for the rest of the week,'' the centre said on its Web site.

Queensland state Premier Peter Beattie said the recovery from Monday's cyclone would be ''long and slow'' and that it would take time to restore basic services. Hundreds of tarpaulins were being delivered to affected areas to make homes liveable.

Speaking from the sugar-growing town of Innisfail, just south of Cairns, which took the full force of the storm, Beattie praised emergency services and local communities and said delivering food, clean water and power generators was a priority.

''The whole bloody place is blown apart and (the emergency services and local communities are) standing there fixing it up. I just think it says a lot about us as Australians,'' Beattie told local television.

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