Cyclone Larry Devastates Australian Towns, Crops; Second Storm Approaches

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"This is certainly a very fearful and challenging time for the people of Far North Queensland," Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday.

"I want them to know that their fellow Australians are with them and will respond in an appropriate fashion to any request for help.''

Food, water, generators, tarpaulins, and fuel are already being rushed to the areas from other states.

The Australian Defense Force has sent a six-person medical team to the area as well as a fleet of aircraft as part of Operation Larry Assist.

Prime Minister Howard was quick to point out the preparation done ahead of Larry's arrival and the speed with which Australia's emergency response teams swung into action.

"Australians are very good at responding to these things, because everybody pitches in without restraint and without any kind of holding back to help,'' Howard said.

Prime Minister Howard plans to visit the affected areas on Wednesday.

We Have No Bananas

But the region's local federal representative, Bob Katter, remains concerned about Larry's ongoing financial impact.

The Queensland towns of Innisfail and Babinda are home to Australia's banana industry, which has been all but wiped out by the cyclone.

"The [region's] tourism industry is based upon the banana pickers, the young backpackers, young, glamorous sort of people,'' Katter told a local radio station.

Katter, who has been driving around the area, said the damage was the worst he'd ever seen despite living through 15 cyclones.

Banana industry officials are meeting today to discuss what industry assistance is needed.

Prices for the fruit are expected to double after Larry destroyed about 80 percent of Australia's crop.

The chief executive of the Australian Banana Growers Council, Tony Heidrich, said about 200,000 tons (181,500 metric tons) of fruit worth about 300 million Australian dollars had been wiped out.

"I spoke to a big grower this morning who's already laid off three-quarters of his staff,'' Heidrich said. "There's going to be massive job losses, and that'll flow through to the communities."

"We'll start to see the first flush of fruit about nine months from now, but certainly most growers won't be coming back into production for 12 months. Then probably another 12 months on top of that before all farms are back into full production.''

The storm also destroyed at least 15 million Australian dollars worth of avocados as it ripped across Queensland orchards in the middle of the harvesting period, according to industry group Avocados Australia.

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