Photographer: Dan Peled/EPA

Cyclone Debbie Leaves `War Zone' After Hitting Aussie State

  • Huge clean-up operation begins as Queenslanders assess damage
  • Tourist islands in Great Barrier Reef take brunt of storm

A huge clean-up operation is under way in the Australian state of Queensland after a powerful cyclone swept through the region, tearing roofs off buildings, downing trees and forcing tourists to bunker down at luxury island resorts.

The Whitsunday Islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef suffered “substantial damage” when Cyclone Debbie swept through yesterday, and roads have been cut off around coastal towns, state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told ABC television Wednesday. Andrew Willcox, a regional mayor, told the broadcaster the town of Bowen looks “like a war zone.”

Severe weather warnings remain in place even after Debbie was downgraded to a tropical low overnight as it moved inland, with damaging wind and heavy rain expected to cause flooding, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. The storm halted at least 20 percent of coal output from the biggest producing basin in Queensland, with BHP Billiton Ltd. and Glencore Plc suspending operations.

Previous storms across the region have flooded mines, swamped machinery and washed away rail tracks, leading to price spikes amid crimped supply.

The Port of Townsville, which handles approximately A$30 million ($21 million) in trade per day, said shipping would resume this morning, after it evacuated vessels and personnel on Monday. North Queensland Bulk Ports said the Port of Mackay remains closed after a breakwater was damaged.

Authorities said there had been more than 800 calls for emergency assistance in the state and the number would rise once communications are restored to isolated communities.

The Daydream Island resort, which has 200 guests and 60 staff, was running low on water, while authorities were trying to make contact with Hayman Island, Palaszczuk said. There were limited reports of injuries in storm-affected areas, the premier told the ABC.

The sugar industry is bracing for damage that could run into tens of millions of dollars on lost yield from sugar cane that’s “been knocked over by a steam roller,” Paul Schembri, chairman of industry group Canegrowers, told the broadcaster.

About 9 million tons of sugar cane was impacted by the cyclone, however most of that is salvageable, he said.

— With assistance by Matthew Burgess

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