Australia sends troops to coast after worst storm in a century

Thousands of Australian soldiers, police and emergency workers have been sent to help Queensland's stricken coastal communities which have been left reeling by the state's worst storm in a century.

The Australian authorities have marshalled 4,000 troops and sent a supply ship with tonnes of food to its cyclone-stricken north-east coast, as residents in wrecked towns confronted debris that included boats hurled into neighbours' gardens.

Officials confirmed the first death from the 300-mile wide storm that slammed into the coast late on Wednesday 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 of pounds 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 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 170mph 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's roof had collapsed, books were drenched and the front door lay in the centre of the building.

Police moved through the cluttered streets trying to clear wreckage. Richard Doran, 62, beckoned a digger driver to the front of his shop, where three inches of mud covered the floor. A tidal surge had dumped a tangle of downed trees at his front door.

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.

Diane Robson and her husband, Michael, weathered the storm in their top-floor flat. Yesterday she stood on her balcony looking at her yacht lying in their next door neighbour's yard, where it was flung by the storm. "I don't ever want to get back on the boat again," she said. "I'm too scared."

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 2,750 tonnes of food and other aid was deployed in the regional city of Townsville, from where it would be taken to smaller hard-hit towns.

Ms 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.

Flood-battered state's misery

CYCLONE Yasi has piled on the misery on a state battered for weeks by Australia's worst flooding in decades.

The waters which swamped an area in Queensland state the size of Germany and France combined killed 35 people and caused an estimated 3.5bn damage. Queensland was hit by major flooding during late December and early January, with three quarters of the state declared a disaster zone.

An independent Commission of Inquiry has been established to examine the unprecedented flood disaster.