Image: Cyclone cleanup
Rob Griffith  /  AP
Australian army soldiers help clean up the cyclone-ravaged community of Innisfail, locate in northeastern Australia, on Saturday.
updated 3/25/2006 8:00:13 AM ET 2006-03-25T13:00:13

Shops along the main streets of the cyclone-ravaged community of Innisfail began opening their doors Saturday as power was restored for the first time since the area was struck by a cyclone.

Officials estimate that one in three businesses along with half the houses in Innisfail — a sugar cane and banana farming community of about 8,500 people hardest hit by the cyclone — were damaged by the 180 mph winds and rain on Monday.

But after four full days of cleaning up by hundreds of troops and emergency service volunteers, there were few signs of the devastation along Innisfail’s main street on Saturday.

Shoppers strolled in and out of stores, where electricity was restored late Friday, stocking up on supplies lost when the storm tore through.

Several banks were also open, cashing the emergency relief checks supplied by the local government to cyclone-affected residents.

Phone lines to Innisfail have also been restored, although several outlying communities remained without power or communications.

The Queensland state government has come under criticism in recent days for allegedly failing to respond quickly enough to the disaster, but a spokesman for the volunteer State Emergency Service rejected those claims.

“We’re doing the best we can with the resources and equipment that we have,” said Jie Spence, the Innisfail logistics director for the SES.

Spence said emergency crews were taking advantage of a break in the heavy rains that have fallen over the region since Monday to reach areas cut off by flooding.

“I wouldn’t say it’s good,” Spence said looking up at the clouds. “No Innisfail weather is ever good. But it has stopped raining so that’s a good thing.”

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