Australia Deploys Troops to Storm `Disaster’ Zone

Australia deployed troops and declared parts of Queensland state a disaster zone after a cyclone-force storm tore off roofs, downed power lines and triggered millions of dollars in insurance claims.

More than 4,000 homes were damaged, schools were closed and authorities in the state capital, Brisbane, issued bottled water to residents after a reservoir roof caved in during the storm two days ago.

“The damage is like a war zone,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters in the city today, after diverting his plane returning from Washington to visit his home state. “This is a natural disaster.”

Fifteen low-risk prisoners joined 350 army personnel and 1,200 police and emergency workers in the clean-up, as the government pledged aid to families left homeless. The disaster zone extends to tourist destinations such as the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast in the state’s southeast.

“It’s enough to make you cry,” Julie Field said by telephone from the Deck Cafe in The Gap, Brisbane’s worst-hit suburb. “I’ve lived here for 30 years and have never seen anything like it, roofs lying on the ground and bare housing frames. People are feeling lucky to be alive.”

Winds reached 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour, equivalent to a Category 2 cyclone, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. A 20-year-old man was killed when he was swept away by water surging from a storm drain, police said.

Lightning, Hailstones

Wind, lightning, rain and hailstones cut electricity to more than 230,000 homes and businesses, while falling branches and trees tore down more than 33 kilometers of lines. Power has been restored to 215,000 homes, state-owned Energex said today.

“It’s Armageddon,” said Simon Whistler by telephone as he helped move debris in The Gap. “There are pieces of timber and steel everywhere and it’s as if a bomb has gone off.”

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh likened the storm to Cyclone Larry, a Category 5 system with winds of 290 kilometers per hour that hit the state in March 2006. That was the most powerful storm in Australia in 30 years, destroying homes and wiping out the A$350 million ($226 million) banana industry.

Suncorp-Metway Ltd., Australia’s third-largest insurer, received 4,500 claims as of 3 p.m. today and a cost estimate will be released when claims have been assessed, Chief Executive John Mulcahy said in an e-mailed statement. Suncorp shares today fell 4.2 percent to A$6.32, compared with a 2.6 percent decline in the 46-company S&P/ASX 200 Finance Index.

Brisbane-based RACQ Insurance estimated claims of at least A$25 million would be lodged. The company received 1,500 in the first 24 hours and expects that figure to climb to 4,000, Chief Executive Michael Bradley said in an e-mailed statement.

Rudd announced funding of A$1,000 per adult and A$400 per dependent child to families left homeless by the storm, in addition to natural disaster relief of A$165 per person and A$765 per family.


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