INNISFAIL, Australia – Soldiers carried aid to the cyclone-shattered town of Innisfail Tuesday as residents picked through streets littered with rubble and mangled roofs destroyed by one of Australia's most powerful cyclones in decades.
Troop trucks rumbled through the streets of Innisfail, the town of 8,500 that bore the brunt of Category-5 Cyclone Larry when it slammed into the coast of northeast Australia just before dawn Monday. By Tuesday, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm.
"One of the most immediate needs is to get shelter over roofless homes, and there are many," said Charlie McKillop, a spokesman for Attorney General Philip Ruddock, whose department was helping coordinate aid.
Bob Katter, a local lawmaker, said about 7,000 people were left without homes.
"There most certainly would be around 7,000 people ... that are effectively homeless," he told The Associated Press. "They're sitting in four walls but no roof."
Amazingly, the storm caused no reported fatalities, and only 30 people suffered minor injuries.
Reporters who flew into Innisfail on Tuesday saw scenes of devastation — rain forest shredded by the winds, acres of sugar and banana plantations flattened, the trees and cane on the ground next to their stumps, pointing in the direction that the cyclone tore past.
"It looks like it's just been napalmed," said helicopter pilot Ian Harris. "That's normally pristine rain forest."
An apartment block with its roof torn off looked from the air like a doll's house. A resident was inside picking through the wreckage.
"I never expected anything like this," said Rosarie Cullinane, a 24-year-old Irish backpacker who had been working at a local hostel. "I did hear about cyclones but I didn't think it was going to be that bad."
She said backpackers huddled in their hostel wrapped in mattresses as the storm raged outside.
The town's main street was littered with rubble from badly damaged buildings and the corrugated metal used for roofing in the region. In some parts of the street people waded through knee-deep water.
Stephen Young, deputy executive director of Queensland's Counter Disaster and Emergency Services, said relief was flowing to Innisfail from all over Australia.
About 120 troops were helping deliver aid, while clean up and specialist urban search and rescue crews were heading to the town.
Among supplies flowing into the town were nearly 10,500 gallons of water, 6,000 in-flight meals provided by national flag carrier Qantas, as well as gas and gasoline.
"We've hit this as hard as we possibly could with every possible ounce of effort from the Queensland government and the commonwealth government," Young said.
Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday pledged that his administration would help shattered communities rebuild.
"The federal government will give what is needed to get these communities back on their feet," Howard said in a radio interview.
Queensland state political leader Premier Peter Beattie said it could take days to restore power and water supplies to Innisfail, a farming town about 60 miles south of the major tourist town of Cairns.
"In the southern part, there's blockages, both in terms of water and the sewerage blockages as well," Beattie later told the Nine Network. He said generators were being sent to provide power until electricity cables are repaired.
The casualty toll was so low because people left town or went to shelters after authorities posted warnings. Residents and officials were mindful of the damage Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans and Mississippi last August, said Ben Creagh, a spokesman for Queensland state Department of Emergency Services.
"There was absolutely no complacency at the planning level at all, and I think that shows. ... Good planning, a bit of luck — we've dodged a bullet," he said.
Farmers were among the hardest hit. The region is a major growing region for bananas and sugar cane, and vast tracts of the crops were flattened.
President of the Australian Banana Growers' Council, Patrick Leahy, said he faced at least six months without an income after Cyclone Larry destroyed his banana crop.
The storm was the most powerful to hit Australia since Christmas Eve 1974, when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the northern city of Darwin, killing 65 people.