INNISFAIL, Australia – After their town was torn apart by a terrifying cyclone — amazingly without loss of life — the people of Innisfail responded with a most Australian of gatherings: a barbie.
Butchers and restaurant owners in the town offered up their wares to survivors on Tuesday rather than see them rot in refrigerators warming quickly in the tropical heat after the storm cut electricity in this town about 1,200 miles north of Sydney.
But by Wednesday morning, heavy rains had resumed, causing local flooding, preventing equipment like generators reaching Innisfail and drenching hundreds of troops sent to the area to restore power, water and sewerage systems.
More than 1,000 residents turned out at Tuesday's barbecue to munch on donated lamb chops, steaks and sausages amid twisted metal roofing sheets and palms trees stripped bare.
"It's looking after our home, isn't it?" said Jeff Baines, one of the barbecue organizers, who wore a chef's uniform as he cooked up dozens of sausages. "If we don't look after our home who's going to?"
The barbecue reflected a determination to make the best of things in the town of 8,000 people Tuesday, a day after Cyclone Larry — the most powerful cyclone to hit northeastern Australia in decades — lifted the roofs off scores of homes and devastated hundreds of square miles of sugar cane and banana crops.
At the River Drive trailer park, a man who identified himself as Brad sat in a plastic garden chair under a leaking tarp, shirtless, drinking a can of beer.
"I'm 42 years of age this year, and I've never been through anything like that," he said.
Most of the park's trees were uprooted and several small buildings were destroyed, but amazingly none of the trailers was badly damaged.
The nearby banana plantations where Brad worked, however, were wiped out.
"My job now is history," he said. "There's no point crying about it is there? You've just got to carry on."
No one was killed when the tempest struck early Monday and only minor injuries were reported. But officials estimated that thousands of people in Innisfail and surrounding towns were left with severely damaged homes.
"There most certainly would be around 7,000 people ... that are effectively homeless," Australian lawmaker Bob Katter told The Associated Press. "They're sitting in four walls but no roof."
Hundreds of troops rumbled into Innisfail on Tuesday and police sent extra officers to the region.
"We're mindful that looting is a possibility, and we have the resources if we need to deal with it," said police Superintendent Mike Keating, speaking on Australian television. He said no looting has been reported.
President Bush called Australian Prime Minister John Howard early Tuesday to offer American help if needed.
"Of course we are able ourselves to look after this," Howard said. "But it was a very generous, thoughtful gesture on his part, and I thank him for it."
Howard pledged aid to the shattered communities and said he would visit them Wednesday.
"We're now in the recovery stage but we're being hampered by heavy rain," Inspector Bob Waters told television's Seven Network on Wednesday. "Fifty percent of homes in the area have received some damage and about 20 to 30 percent have received major structural damage."
The landscape around Innisfail was one of devastation — rain forest shredded by the winds and acres of sugar and banana plantations flattened, the broken branches and cane lying on the ground eerily pointing the same direction. An apartment block with its roof torn off looked from the air like a doll's house.
Innisfail's main street was littered with rubble from badly damaged buildings and the corrugated metal used for roofing in the region. Some wooden buildings were missing entire walls, and others had collapsed in splinters.
The storm wrought havoc on the region's agriculture. Officials estimated Tuesday that the cyclone wiped out about 10 percent of Australia's sugar crop and would likely cost the industry $144 million. The Australian Banana Growers Council estimated losses of $253 million and 4,000 jobs this season.
"The whole bloody place is blown apart ... This is going to be a long, slow recovery," said Peter Beattie, premier of the state of Queensland where Innisfail is located.
Beattie warned it could take days to restore power and water supplies to Innisfail.
Ben Manogu, 20, a backpacker from England who had been trying to find work in the region, said he would be heading home earlier than expected because there were no jobs.
"I was excited about it until I saw all the destruction that it did," he said of the cyclone.