Tropical Cyclone Larry

Tropical cyclone Larry, March 2006

Nobody in north Queensland will forget the Tropical Cyclone Larry.

It was one of the worst Australian cyclones ever, and the destruction it left behind on the coast between Cairns and Townsville (and a bit into Atherton Tablelands), was enormous.
cyclone larry courier mail cyclone larry cairns post cyclone larry townsville bulletin
Local newspapers. ©

Cyclone and Hurricane Warnings
In the 19 of March 2006 Australians woke up to a totally usual Sunday. The Bureau of Meteorology had been monitoring a cyclone on the Coral Sea, but in the previous months there had been a few cyclones around that never hit the coast so many people didn’t take it quite seriously until the cyclone warnings started interrupting radio and TV programs. Then the shops got crowded with people stocking up food and necessities because after a cyclone hits the power may be gone for weeks so the shops may not be open.

cyclone larry babinda
Babinda. ©

Prepare for Hurricanes and Cyclones
Once back home, everyone was taping their window screens and cleaning their yards from anything that can fly – outdoor furniture, barbeques, bikes and rubbish bins.. Warnings from the radio promised “a serious threat to life and property” and recommended to evacuate, but once the house and the yard was prepared for the worst, it was already night so for many people there was nothing much to do but wait and see what happens. The “silence before the storm” was striking – the weather was stiller than ever as if the cyclone had sucked even the smallest breeze out of the air.

cyclone larry innisfail
Innisfail. ©

Hurricane and Cyclone Safety
When Larry finally hit in the early hours of Monday, there were thousands of people sitting inside their houses and holding their breath, listening to the roaring winds, house roofs being lifted and large trees cracking into pieces outside.

The biggest hope was that the roof and the windows would hold because once such winds get inside, you would get thrown around with furniture and debris that will fly in from outside. It was a scary few hours and I’ve heard so many people saying that if they would have known how bad it was they would have evacuated.

cyclone larry queensland
Innisfail. ©

Cyclone and Hurricane Destruction
Once Larry was gone, everyone went out to discover the outside, and – it looked as if a nuclear bomb had blown the place up. Houses without roofs, even walls missing, trees across the roads and all the greenery was gone, there were hardly any leaves in trees. The town looked like a ghost town - it was Monday morning but everything was closed. It was crazy to think that only 24 hours earlier I had hardly heard about the cyclone, now it would take months before our lives would be back to normal. Phone lines were broken, electricity was gone and the rain was just endless.

cyclone larry kurrimine beach
Kurrimine Beach. ©

Hurricane and Cyclone Aftermath
Towns got isolated as the roads between them got flooded and the transport of food supplies got really difficult. The ATMs wouldn’t work with no electricity so people would have no cash even once the first food outlets would start opening. I remember MacDonald’s being the only place open in Innisfail about a week after the cyclone and giving away burgers for free.

cyclone larry banana fields
Banana fields. ©

Banana Fields and Cyclone Larry
All the banana fields in the area were devastated, as were sugar cane farms and tropical rainforests. Almost 90% of all Australian banana industry was destroyed. Banana prices went up about 10 times and stayed there for the rest of the year.

tropical rainforest
Rainforest before Larry. ©

Rainforest Restoration after Cyclone Destruction
North Queensland has always been known for its lush greenery thanks to the dense tropical rainforests, now in the Cyclone Larry's path there was 14,000 km2 of destroyed rainforests with nothing but bare tree skeletons. But not all the trees were killed so the greenery started gradually return and now the rainforests are green again, although you can still see that the canopy is thinner than in the areas that weren't affected by Larry.

cyclone larry rainforest
Rainforest after Larry. ©

Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Tracy
Thousands of homes were totally destroyed and people had to move to stay with friends and relatives. The destruction of the Cyclone Larry was so bad it was compared to the Cyclone Tracy, the worst tropical cyclone in Australia’s history, which devastated Darwin on the Christmas Day in 1974, killing at least 66 people and leaving thousands homeless.

cyclone larry mission beach
Mission beach. ©

Cyclone and Hurricane Devastation
This guy, Jeff, was inside his house while one of his rooms fell off to the street during the first half of the Cyclone Larry. While the cyclone’s eye passed there was a 20-minutes calm so he went to the pub across the road for the second half of the cyclone. Don't think there was time for the normal pub activities - eight blokes were flat out holding heavy furniture against the doors so the winds wouldn’t get inside. But I'd say they had a cold beer once everything was over.

cyclone larry australia
South Johnstone. ©

Cyclone Larry and Hurricane Katrina
The fact that no-one was killed in the Cyclone Larry was amazing (there was actually one guy killed in a campervan but he hasn't been counted as a direct cyclone victim because he was killed by a heart attack and not by the winds of the cyclone). But we also had some very good luck - the reason for the many fatalities in the Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was that Katrina hit a much heavier populated area, and the fact that it broke a dam which flooded the city.

cyclone larry south johnstone
South Johnstone. ©

Cyclone Monica
Only one month after the Cyclone Larry, while Queenslanders were still struggling getting their lives back to normal, came Cyclone Monica with the winds of 350km/h - stronger than any cyclone ever heard of before. Luckily it so happened that Monica didn't hit any populated areas and ended up in the uninhabited outback. But scientists predict that both the numbers and the strengths of hurricanes and cyclones will be increasing - a fact believed to be linked to the global warming.

cyclone larry jeff cantor
South Johnstone. ©

Here's a map of the area devastated by the Tropical Cyclone Larry, where I have tagged the places that were particularly badly hit. You can click on the tags to see what places they are, and double-click anywhere on the map to zoom it in and see the places closer. Drag the map to move around, and if you want to see the satellite image with Google Earth, click on "Sat" in the top right hand corner.

View Larger Map

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