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Australian Town of Tully Survives Category 5 Cyclone

A policeman walks past the remains of a house that was destroyed by Cyclone Yasi in the northern Australian town of Tully, February 3, 2011.
A policeman walks past the remains of a house that was destroyed by Cyclone Yasi in the northern Australian town of Tully, February 3, 2011.

The cyclone that roared across Australia early Thursday has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but officials are only just beginning to assess the damage from the country's most powerful storm in nearly a century.

Local officials in northern Queensland state say Cyclone Yasi left many towns looking like war zones. The category five storm tore the tops off hundreds of homes and buildings, damaged crops, wrecked trees, and blew down power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity.

Kerjel Spencer works at Hotel Tully in the Australian town of Tully, one of several towns that bore the brunt of the cyclone. VOA's Victor Beattie contacted Spencer to find out how Tully made out.

Can you describe how things look, now that the storm has passed?

"A lot of local businesses have gone, [are] completely gone. Rows of houses [are] gone. Power lines. Looks as if we won’t have electricity for at least a week. No water. We’ve only just got the water back on. There’s police services coming in. We just got twelve paramedics from Brisbane that have just flown in. The army [has] been doing drop-offs. And yeah, just a lot of people [are] just coming into town just to help out."

Have you heard of any casualties in Tully?

"No, there wasn’t any, thank God. There’s only just been one in Ingham, where a guy had his generator on in the house and the fumes, it’s what got him."

What was it like when the storm hit?

"Winds were pretty severe. There was guttering iron just being torn off the house across the road. We just lost a bit of the guttering ourselves. The sound was like jets above you, and then just a screeching. And, then, just everything hitting your roof from being flown around."

Tell us what the community looks like.

"Every single tree is gone. There’s no leaves on any others. The banana farms are just being wiped out. All of their trees are pushed over. You couldn’t really get around the roads because all of those power lines are down and poles and trees are blocking roads. But the local council and the army brang trucks in and big tractors. And they are just clearing it and clearing the roads just so everyone can get to the main center if they need to."

Tully is a big resort community. This storm is going to hurt you economically for a while.

"Yes, and definitely for the backpackers and bananas, you know, that’s what’s our main—they bring the money into the town. And with none of them it is going to be very hard, especially with the floods in the southern part of Queensland. And that’s definitely knocked us around up here, too, because of the market prices of the fruit."

Is there going to be any problem with food supplies or fresh drinking water?

"Well, they have just turned the water back on. Because of no power they couldn’t pump the water from the reservoir. So we went out for about a day. But now the drinking water’s fine. They recommend just to boil it just in case. None of the shops are open because no one’s got power. We’re the only ones that got a generator at the moment and we’ve got tools and [?]. There’s no banks open.... everything is just cash only."