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Cyclone Ita's damage to far north Queensland sugar cane to cost millions

Tuesday April 15, 2014 - 13:21 EST
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Floodwaters cover a sugar cane field along the Bruce Highway between Cardwell and Ingham. - ABC

Sugar cane growers in far north Queensland say about 90 per cent of crops in the region have been wiped out by now ex-Tropical Cyclone Ita.

Peak group Canegrowers predicts flash flooding and fierce winds have cost the sugar cane industry tens of millions of dollars and it will have long-term impacts on regional communities.

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri says it will take days to tally the cost.

He says heavy rain and cyclonic winds have damaged 90 per cent of far north Queensland's cane fields.

"That's unprecedented, and there's no doubt this will have a knock-on impact to a whole range of regional communities," he said.

"There's a lot of cane that has been knocked over by the forces of wind and rain and of course there are a lot of paddocks and cane in various districts that have been subjected to the impacts of flooding.

"It appears that the damage bill is going to run into the tens of millions of dollars but I guess we won't know the final figure right up until harvest."

Mr Schembri says it could take years for farmers to recover what has been lost.

"Certainly I don't ever recall a cyclone that has caused so much damage across so much of the canegrowing regions in Queensland," he said.

"Our sugar industry is located in coastal regional communities.

"In many districts, they form the centrepiece of regional economic hubs and so I guess if sugar cane farmers' and millers' income is depressed, obviously that can have an ongoing impact on regional communities."

Tomato, banana, eggplant crops damaged

Tomato, banana and eggplant crops are also among those damaged by Cyclone Ita in far north Queensland.

Growcom chief executive officer Alex Livingstone says farmers will need immediate financial assistance to help them recover.



"They have been investing a lot of their savings into growing their next crop, which is now been wiped out," he said.

"They're going to need some immediate assistance to keep them operating for the next few weeks while they allow all the water to subside, get the fields dried out, then get back on the fields to plant their follow on crops form there."

Mr Livingstone says it will be days before producers can assess their losses.

"Various pockets have been more affected than others," he said.

"Up in the Atherton Tablelands, for instance, we know of some producers who didn't lose a great deal of their crop and somebody down the road has lost 40 or 50 per cent.

"All of those little pieces of information are going to have to be pulled together and amalgamated."

Bruce Highway reopens in north

The Bruce Highway has been reopened at Ingham to all traffic between Cairns and Townsville.

The highway was opened shortly before 9:00am.

Transport Department spokesman David Atkinson says crews are now inspecting local roads near Ingham.



He says there has been some minor damage at the Abergowrie bridge.

"There's a big cutting that approaches the bridge - there's been a small collapse of the cutting," he said.

"We've got bridge inspectors on their way up there at the moment trying to get access to that area, but we'll know the bridge condition today sometime.

"At the moment the priority is to clear the Bruce Highway, and now that's been done we can go on to the side road network."

In Ingham, residents are cleaning up after widespread flooding in the wake of Cyclone Ita.

The north Queensland town had been cut off since Sunday after the rising floodwaters closed the Bruce Highway.

Residents are busy sweeping away mud and clearing debris.

While the floodwaters have now receded, about 40 homes and businesses have been affected, but the damage is minimal.

The nearby town of Halifax remains cut off and Hinchinbrook Mayor Rodger Bow says it is still unclear when the roads reopen.

Queensland Rail network closed

In the state's far north, the Douglas Shire Council says the Daintree ferry, north of Cairns, is operating but is restricted to work crews and emergency vehicles.



Engineers are assessing infrastructure and are hoping to reopen the ferry and Cape Tribulation Road to local residents later today.

Ergon Energy says power should be restored to remaining customers in Cooktown by late this afternoon, Hope Vale by late tonight, Wujal Wujal and the Bloomfield area by tomorrow night, and the remaining customers in the Mossman-Daintree area by Thursday night.

The Queensland Rail network remains closed north of Mackay and inspections cannot be carried out until water recedes between Townsville and Tully.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway is expected to resume services tomorrow.

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Ita is now heading towards New Zealand as a low pressure system.

Beware of clean-up scammers

Meanwhile, Robert Melling from the Office of Fair Trading has warned cyclone victims to be on the look out for scammers as the clean-up begins.

"If anyone comes to you and says 'look I can do this work asking for cash up-front', the alarm bells should ring in that situation straight away," he said.

"I know it's a difficult situation for some people, but they should really think about who they're dealing with and take the time to sort of scope the local area to see if there are any licensed trades people that can help them."


- ABC

© ABC 2014

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