The main street of Innisfail yesterday ? a wasteland of branches and roofing iron torn from sheds and buildings. The Australian
The main street of Innisfail yesterday ? a wasteland of branches and roofing iron torn from sheds and buildings. The Australian



WHEN Vasco Baston returns to his Mission Beach banana farm in North Queensland on Sunday, he is expecting a scene of utter ruin.

Mr Baston and his wife, Richelle, own a banana farm at Boambee, Mr Baston manages a 60ha (150 acre) banana plantation 400 metres from the ocean at Mission Beach and their son, Mark, has just bought his own banana plantation there.

Mission Beach is where category five Cyclone Larry hit the North Queensland coastline early yesterday, leaving a trail of destruction in the wake of 290km/h winds.

Yesterday Mr Baston was waiting for emailed images of the destruction, but he already knew the packing shed, coolroom and machinery shed had been flattened by the cyclone.

Richelle Baston said Mark had described the scene as: "I could have been on the moon ? there's not a leaf on the trees, every living thing has been flattened."

He said casualties included the 'cyclone-proof' shed.

Vasco Baston said Cyclone Larry was being described as the worst North Queensland had seen in 107 years ? much worse than Cyclone Rona in 1999 ? 'a breath of air compared to this one' ? and much worse even than Category 3 Cyclone Winifred which caused an estimated $325 million worth of damage in February, 1986.

Silvano and Yvonne Zecchinati are heading to North Queensland today.

The couple, retired banana farmers who now live in Coffs Harbour, are heading for Innisfail to help their sons, David and Michael, and their families clean up the damage on their North Johnson River banana plantations, flattened by the cyclone, with sheds left roofless.

David and Lisa Zecchinati's Innisfail home, 10km west of Innisfail, was also damaged when gale-force winds blew out a big picture window, showering the kitchen with glass, damaging the interior of the house and even sucking the dishwasher out of its alcove.

"Michael said it was just like war breaking out," Yvonne Zecchinati said. Her brother Mark Spagnolo also had his South Johnson River banana plantation flattened, as did Lisa Zecchinati's parents Mr and Mrs Franco.

Denis Spagnolo of Coffs Harbour said his brother, Colin, had his Innisfail house badly damaged, with windows smashed and part of the roof destroyed.

"Mum said he had to spend (Sunday) night in a neighbour's bunker," Mr Spagnolo said.

Coffs Coast banana growing families have dozens of relatives and friends in the industry in North Queensland and yesterday, with power lines down, trees and debris blocking the road and communications erratic, many had heard only sketchy reports from relatives still unable to leave their homes or visit their farms.

Cyclone Larry has devastated the banana industry around Tully and Innisfail, destroying about 200,000 tonnes of fruit worth an estimated $300 million and leaving up to 4000 people out of work.

Coffs Coast NSW Department of Primary Industry horticulturalist Greig Ireland said local growers could expect to see increased prices for bananas, possibly very hefty increases.

The manager of Mullumbimby-based banaana supplier Tropikist, Jan Trueman, said the price of bananas had already skyrocketed.

But Coffs Harbour banana grower David Pike said because of the reduction in Coffs Coast plantings of Cavendish bananas, the cyclone would not represent an economic bonanza for local growers.

"There's no way we can capitalise on this," he said.

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