Airlie Beach- disaster zone

Our flight came into land at Proserpine airport and from the air we could see the devastation Cyclone Debbie had wrought. The tropical rainforests looked brown instead of lush green, as if burnt to the ground.

The airport was small but back up and running fine. We arranged a mini bus to Airlie and climbed aboard. There was only 5 of us on the mini bus and it showed that most tourists were clearly keeping well away. Our driver had found an injured bird so after dropping it off at the vet, we were on our way.

Torn up trees, fences and roofs scattered the landscape. Locals had begun piling up rubbish along the sides of roads and we were told power and not yet been restored to the area. What had looked like brown burnt forests from the air, we could see from the ground, had actually been stripped of all their leaves or ripped up and tossed aside.

We arrived at our hotel and entered through a back door as the main one had been damaged in the storm. The owner was surprised we had come but grateful. Luckily he had a generator so we had power, a/c and wifi. He was also one of very few places to be open so his motel was full – he was doing a roaring trade with every room booked out by the emergency services.

Slightly annoyingly he had bought a fridge full of bottles of water only to find that the Woolworths (Australia’s M&S) was open across the road. So there was no need to spend a fortune on water and snacks at the airport!!

After checking in we walked down to ‘The Explore Whitsundays’ office to ‘check in’ to our boat for the following day. They confirmed that the boat was running and full (to our surprise) but would not be offering scuba diving. A real shame as it was one of the main activities we had come here to do. After some paperwork we wandered back through town. 90% of places were shut but the bottle shop was open. No glass was allowed on the boat so ‘goon’ (boxed wine) was our drink of choice. Plus some vodka emptied into a plastic bottle and some coke.

We could see looking through the various shop windows the damaged that had been caused. It would be a while before many places would be open again. Many had collapsed roofs or signage that had been ripped completely off or flood damage. Subway and McDonald’s were even closed.

At the beach three sail boats had been blown onto the beach and rocks making some fantastic photos but so tragic for the owners. A mast could also be seen in the bay just above the water. As we walked around we wondered what would await us onboard the boat the following day and what condition the islands and coral reefs would be in.

As most places were shut, dinner was limited, but we did find an open bar doing a basic BBQ. A sausage wrapped in a single piece of bread (referred to as a snag in Australia) with ketchup and onions and a pint later we opted for an early night. Especially knowing that we would likely not get much sleep on the boat the next few nights.

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