The North Queensland town of Innisfail got a bigger blow than New Orleans did but there were no deaths and the place is mostly back to normal after only a week. The difference between how an underclass behaves and how country people behave might have something to do with it
"Blue-collar muscle is the bedrock of Innisfail's rapid recovery as local farmers, tradesmen and labourers provide the grunt to get the district back on track. Yesterday morning, just a week after Cyclone Larry left the main street a mass of twisted wreckage and fallen trees, Innisfail was beginning to resemble a normal country town. Cafes were open, banks were trading, the famous Oliveri's Continental Deli was serving its cheeses, stuffed olives and prosciuttos the same way it has for more than 80 years.
Mayor Neil Clarke has warned there is a long road ahead as thousands struggle to overcome a billion-dollar damage bill. But even he was amazed at the spirit and energy of a community that refused to blink when confronted with a category-five cyclone. He said many had waded straight outside into the wreckage with chainsaws. "Just hours after it hit, many were literally cutting their way out of their own properties and going to help a neighbour," he said.
Banana farmer Colin Rostedt surveyed the ruins of his plantation for only minutes on Monday morning before firing up his 22-kilowatt generator, grabbing a chainsaw and going to work. He and his wife and two children didn't wait for help to arrive. They're still cleaning up, but with an eye to the future. "We're looking at replanting," he said. "It's the way that people respond to tragedy that really makes the difference. "Around Innisfail, people know each other. They're related to each other, they went to school with each other, and they help each other," he said.
Cairns TAFE facilities manager Eddie McKeown, who arrived just hours after Larry hit, was amazed to see the Bruce Highway north of Innisfail crowded with men cutting back fallen trees to carve a path into town. "They just appeared out of nowhere with chainsaws," he said. "It was extraordinary."
Len and Anita Oliveri, owners of the deli in Edith St, are the embodiment of the town's can-do spirit. They kept their stock fresh in a cold room powered by their own generator. By Tuesday, they had established a soup kitchen using their own food, as well as stocks donated by scores of other businesses, and provided free meals for thousands. Yesterday Len had put his brief career as a welfare worker behind him and was back behind the counter, as a businessman. "We're getting back to normal as quickly as possible."
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