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Australian troops join cyclone relief effort

Australia has marshalled 4,000 troops and sent a supply ship containing tonnes of food to its cyclone-stricken north-east coast, as residents in wrecked towns confronted debris that included boats hurled into gardens.

Authorities confirmed the first death from the storm that slammed into the coast yesterday and said a search was under way for two missing people.

Cyclone Yasi destroyed dozens of homes and ripped roofs and walls from dozens more. It cut power supplies in two regional cities and laid waste to hundreds of millions worth of banana and sugar cane crops.

“I just hope we don’t get forgotten,” said Lisa Smith, whose house had part of its roof torn off in the hard-hit, seafront town of Cardwell. She complained that state and federal officials had not yet given her remote community any substantial help.

Residents and officials were amazed that the death toll was not higher. The storm whipped the coast with up to 273km/h winds and sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, as tens of thousands of people huddled in evacuation centres.

Power supplies and phone services were gradually being restored and roads cleared of downed trees and other debris. But the efforts were hampered by drenching rain in many parts of the disaster zone, prompting the weather bureau to warn of potentially dangerous flash flooding.

In Cardwell, rain pounded down on already-inundated homes through gaping holes in roofs. The waterfront library was in shambles. The roof had collapsed, the books were drenched and the front door lay in the centre of the building.

Police moved through the cluttered streets trying to clear wreckage. Power and water supplies remained cut and the main road into town was torn into chunks in places and piles of sand washed ashore by tidal surges blocked it elsewhere. Yachts and leisure cruisers were piled atop each other at the marina, and some washed up on the boardwalk.

Prime minister Julia Gillard said 4,000 troops would help with the clean-up operation and that more than 600 police and emergency services workers were fanning out with chainsaws and heavy machinery.

A ship carrying 2,750t of food and other aid was due to arrive in the regional city of Townsville, from where it would be taken to smaller hard-hit towns.

The cyclone has added misery to a state battered for weeks by the nation’s worst flooding in decades, which killed 35 people, swamped dozens of towns and caused an estimated £3.5bn damage.

Gillard said the cyclone damage would be massive but it was too early to quantify it.

Police said the man who died was a 23-year-old who asphyxiated due to fumes from a diesel-powered generator he was using in a closed room as he sheltered from the storm.

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