It was business as usual, almost, about 60 miles north of ground zero for one of the worst cyclones to hit Australia’s east coast in decades.
Packing winds of up to 180 mph, Tropical Cyclone Larry slammed into the coastal community of Innisfail in north-eastern Queensland early yesterday, uprooting trees, tearing roofs from houses and reducing wooden buildings to splinters.
But as Innisfail residents took stock of the damage, visitors to the popular tourist mecca of Cairns were out shopping for duty-free goods and dining at al-fresco restaurants.
Several fallen trees and a few closed shops were the only obvious signs that a major cyclone had passed through this tropical resort town, a popular jumping-off point for Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef.
At a bar in central Cairns yesterday, two dozen tourists and locals sipped drinks and chatted as on any other night.
At least two patrons said they had slept right through the storm.
“I went to bed and in the morning when I woke up it was all over and I went to work,” said Clint Whitehorn, 33, a tourism worker who has lived in Cairns for four years.
Whitehorn said most locals were well informed about the cyclone and took the necessary precautions, including staying indoors and securing their houses.
Seitaro Yamaea, 23, from Tokyo, said he also slept through the storm, along with three other friends who were also staying at a packed youth hostel in central Cairns.
His main complaint about the storm was the inconvenience.
“It was boring,” he said. “All the shops were closed and there was nothing to do.”
Hotel manager Lyn Ullrich said she was surprised by the lack of damage in Cairns.
“I have to touch wood and thank my lucky stars because I think … we really had minimal if (any) damage,” she said. “I expected a much heavier downpour, much, much heavier. To me that was very surprising.”
Ullrich said she issued a cyclone warning to each of her 180 guests, who huddled together in the hotel restaurant and foyer as the storm passed.
“There were some mixed reactions. I think some people thought it was … really bad, taking pictures and everything, but there were others that were like: ‘Is that it?’” she said.
The main road out of Cairns south to Innisfail was closed yesterday because of flooding, Queensland police said. Several flights were also cancelled as a result of the storm, and all the major hotels in Cairns were fully booked with stranded tourists.