COVER STORY: The lessons of Cyclone Larry
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, April 1, 2006
Cyclone Larry has inflicted untold damage on North Queensland's vital infrastructure and farms.
As North Queensland counts the cost of the devastation caused by Cyclone Larry, there are important lessons to be learned from the cyclone's impact on vital infrastructure such as electricity, telecommunications, roads, bridges and railway links.
Only immediate federal disaster relief will enable the return of these services which are indispensable to a rapid recovery. About 100,000 homes were left without electricity after the cyclone.
Both the high voltage network, owned by Powerlink Queensland, and the local distribution network, run by Ergon Energy, have been disrupted.
Powerlink's chief operating officer, Simon Bartlett, said the task of identifying and repairing the cyclone damage to the transmission network could not be underestimated.
"It's a huge undertaking. We need to inspect seven transmission lines that are currently out of service, spanning more than 300 kilometres from Kamerunga in the north to Ingham in the south. This includes over 800 transmission towers, many of these located in very remote and rugged terrain," Mr Bartlett said.
Railways and powerlines
Queensland Rail issued a statement saying that rail services between Townsville and Cairns had stopped completely because of the damage. Freight depots in Tully and Innisfail have been extensively damaged, trees have fallen over tracks and powerlines are down.
Sugar-cane farmers in the area, who have endured years of below-cost returns due to deregulation and low world prices, will suffer, as flattened crops cover 10 per cent of Australia's sugar-producing areas.
The value of the sugar crop losses in the area is put at $200 million. Additionally, some of the region's sugar mills have been damaged, along with bridges and roads.
Millions of tropical fruit trees such as bananas, avocados and papaws were destroyed.
North Queensland's Independent MP, Bob Katter, whose electorate of Kennedy covers the area, estimated the damage to farms and infrastructure at $1 billion, to repair damaged homes, infrastructure and farms.
Australian Cane Farmers Association (ACFA) chairman Ross Walker, general manager Stephen Ryan and the rest of the team offered their support to the residents of Far North Queensland who have suffered at the hands of Cyclone Larry.
Mr Walker said:
"ACFA was saddened to hear of the loss and destruction caused by Cyclone Larry. Many of our members in Far North Queensland in the areas of Mourilyan, South Johnstone, Babinda, Tully and Mulgrave have suffered severe crop and property damage at the hands of the storm.
"At this early stage it is impossible to say just how widespread the damage is or which areas were hit the hardest; unfortunately, early reports do not paint a positive picture for Far North Queensland's sugar industry.
"Recent international developments, including the improved sugar price, the WTO's decision to restrict the European Union's export quota for its subsidised sugar and the current growth in sugar consumption internationally looked as though it could signal a possible recovery for Australia's sugar industry.
"However, Cyclone Larry has practically wiped out any gain that many farmers would have enjoyed thanks to the changing international conditions.
"Farmers can rest assured that ACFA will endeavour to work with state and federal governments to secure extraordinary assistance for those who have been substantially affected by Cyclone Larry."
One of the immediate problems facing both farmers and businesses is that of insurance claims. The federal and state governments must stand behind the insurance industry in promptly meeting claims, and in ensuring that insurance premiums are not pushed up for people who have suffered major damage through no fault of their own.
Predictably, greenies have claimed that Cyclone Larry was a result of the effect of global warming. The Australian quoted Queensland Conservation Council co-ordinator Toby Hutcheon saying scientists had forecast an increase in severe weather events and in the intensity of cyclones, due to climate change.
This nonsense can be easily refuted. Tropical cyclones have been monitored around the Australian coastline for many years. A 1978 reference book, Australian Tropical Cyclone Forecasting Manual (Australian Bureau of Meteorology), contains charts showing that tropical cyclones along the north Queensland coast have been monitored, on average, at about one per year.
Emergency Management Australia states that "cyclones occur frequently in the southern hemisphere, with an average of 10 per year being tracked by the Bureau of Meteorology in the Australian region alone. Of these, six may be expected to cross the Australian coast each year."
The worst cyclones in Australia have been Cyclone Tracy, which claimed 65 lives in the Northern Territory in 1975, and Cyclone Mahina, which killed over 400 people in Queensland in 1899.
Despite the conservationists' wild claims, there have been few tropical cyclones off North Queensland in recent years, certainly far fewer than the historical average.