Cyclone Larry: Neil walked into ?war zone


WHEN Neil Francis ar- rived in Innisfail after Cy- clone Larry it was like walk- ing into a war zone.

"I'll always remember the women coming to us sobbing uncontrollably, asking for help for their family,'' Mr Francis, Emu Park Fire and Rescue Service station offi- cer, said.

"You can't comprehend the full extent of the devastation through TV or the paper. You only understand it once you're there.''

Mr Francis was one of three Rockhampton-area fire- fighters stationed in Innisfail for nine days from Monday, March 20.

They formed part of the statewide Urban Search and Rescue Team, the only crew to be stationed in the disaster area itself.

Their task was to conduct building assessments after the destruction caused by Cy- clone Larry early that same Monday.

"Some homes needing tarp- ing, others were uninhabit- able or completely gone.

"There was no electricity so people were cooking what they could find on gas barbe- cues or attending centres to source food.

"Over the nine days things have started to be cleaned up, some electricity is back on and outer communities have been reached. "They still have a long way to go.''

This was Mr Francis's first deployment. He was stationed in Townsville for the floods in 1998.

"It was easy to help. I know someone would be in Rock- hampton to assist my family if something ever happened.''

Mr Francis lives with his wife, Michelle, and their two- year-old daughter Hayley. He will return to Innisfail in the coming weeks if help is still needed.

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