Troops join cyclone relief mission

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A clutter of boats and yachts are piled together at Port Hinchinbrook near Cardwell, Australia (AP)

Australia has called in 4,000 troops and sent a food supply ship to its cyclone-stricken north-east coast, as residents in wrecked towns try to deal with debris that includes boats hurled into neighbours’ gardens.

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

Cyclone Yasi destroyed dozens of homes and ripped roofs and walls from many more. It cut power supplies in two regional cities and destroyed 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 in Queensland state. She complained that state and federal officials had not yet given her remote community any substantial help.

Residents and officials said they were amazed that the death toll was not higher. The storm whipped the coast with up to 170mph winds and sent waves crashing ashore deep into seaside communities as tens of thousands of people huddled in evacuation centres.

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

Diane Robson and her husband Michael weathered the storm in their top floor flat in Cardwell, but their yacht is now lying in their next door neighbour’s garden after being flung by the storm.

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 are fanning out with chainsaws and heavy machinery.

A ship carrying 2,750 tonnes of food and other aid is 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 £3.5 billion damage.

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