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Written by: Staff

INNISFAIL, Australia, Mar 22: Thousands of Australians on the nation's devastated far northeast coast patched up homes with tarpaulins today as heavy rain hampered relief efforts following powerful Cyclone Larry.

The damage bill from Cyclone Larry, which amazingly did not claim any lives when it hit on Monday, has been reported by local media at up to A$1.5 billion (1.1 billion dollar).

Bottled water, ready-made meals, generators, toilets and an army field kitchen have been delivered to a 300 km stretch of coast south of the tourist centre of Cairns, which bore the brunt of the storm.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard toured the area today, to inspect the devastation left after winds topping 290 kph destroyed homes and livelihoods.

''It has made me unselfish,'' Jody Haendel, who lives in the small town of Babinda where Howard stopped and spoke to cyclone survivors, told Reuters. ''My home came out okay, but my parents house was destroyed. All their possessions were ruined.'' In Babinda, which has a population of about 1,200, emergency services said 80 per cent of buildings had been damaged, while in Innisfail -- which bore the brunt of Larry and is home to 8,500 people -- half the homes had been structurally damaged.

Cyclone Larry's winds were stronger than Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the US city of New Orleans when it hit on Aug. 29 with winds of 209 kph.

Larry, a maximum category five cyclone, also devastated sugar cane and banana crops, with industry groups expecting raw sugar production for the world's third-largest exporter to be cut by 500,000 tonnes, or 10 per cent. About 90 per cent of Australia's banana production is believed to have been wiped out.

''One of my aims will be to try and find a way of helping small businesses through, because they are the lifeblood of these communities,'' Howard told reporters before travelling to the devastated area. ''I feel sorry for them and I want to help them.''


Banana grower and father-of-three, Martin Buchanan, lost all his crops on his 250 acre property.

''My house and my family are fine but my living is totally destroyed,'' Buchanan told Reuters. ''We are all wondering what we are going to do.'' The banana industry has said its losses could be up to A$250 million and the sugarcane growers have said their losses could be more than A$200 million.

The Australian newspaper reported that A$300 million in insurance claims had already been lodged, A$15 million worth of avocado crops had been wiped out and that repairing roads and infrastructure in the area could cost up to A$600 million.

Up to 250,000 people live in the area devastated by Cyclone Larry, which is also the centre of Australia's banana industry and accounts for 25 per cent of Australia's sugar cane production.

''We're now in the recovery stage but we're being hampered by heavy rain,'' Inspector Bob Waters of Innisfail police told Australian television.

Another storm, Cyclone Wati, is a category three and intensifying about 800 km east of Cairns, but Australia's Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre said Wati is due to stay in offshore waters until the end of the week.

Larry, which brushed the main tourist centre of Cairns, was similar in size to Cyclone Tracy, which killed 71 people in the northern city of Darwin in 1974 and caused insured losses of A$837 million ($602 million) in today's dollars, the third largest insured loss from a natural disaster in Australia.


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