Boat owners and a legion of helpers are scouring jagged piles of debris at Port Hinchinbrook, many only to find heartbreak with most of the 70 boats destroyed or seriously damaged.
Situated halfway between Townsville and Cairns, Port Hinchinbrook is the gateway to Hinchinbrook Island and boasts some of the best fishing and cruising grounds on the Queensland coast. The small boutique community was home to an integrated township, resort and marina and an enclave of recreational boating.
Protected by the sea by Hinchinbrook Island, the port south of Cardwell (Ground Zero of the cyclone) suffered some of the worst damage during category 5 cyclone Yasi, with yachts flung in to the marina car park, yards and into piles like a junkyard by the seven-metre storm surge.
Hardly any of the 70 craft that were moored in the marina escaped damage when the category 5 Cyclone Yasi roared through, backed by a destructive oceanic storm surge just one hour later.
Residents who chose to remain in their waterfront homes watched in horror as boats were propelled into their yards and in some cases, through lounge rooms. Roofs were removed and as well as rain damage, the sea has gutted ground floors and dragged sand and remnants of boats inside.
Hinchinbrook couple Lindsay and Jennifer Hallam , who had evacuated to stay with friends inland, came back to their waterfront home yesterday to find a 55 ft yacht over their pool with its bow almost inside their home. Their own motor cruiser, 'In Deep', was smashed into pieces.
Event those that are intact are crushed between debris and other vessels. Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said there was major structural damage to many boats in the hardest-hit areas with estimates that $30 million worth of boats were damaged at Port Hinchinbrook alone.
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He said the smaller boats were more likely to be rebuilt but the larger ones were probably beyond repair.
'A lot of the repairs will come to Cairns. There are facilities in Cardwell but not enough to handle the volume and quality that will be required.'
The owner of The Big Boat Shed in Cairns, Ralph Seed said they were anticipating an influx of vessels and he would most likely take on quite a few workers to cope.
'Once the insurance is sorted out, some of those boats will make their way up to Cairns for repairs in a few weeks' time,' said Seed.
According to Qld Police Service Inspector Dave Tucker, who is handling information and media in the region, there is not much left of the marina and its boats. 'Just a whole lot of boats piled up on each other and a strong smell of diesel in the harbour'.
'It’s totally off limits at the moment while police inspect the damaged vessels. It’s a complete mess.'
Of the marina itself, developed by Gold Coast identity Keith Williams in the 90s, it’s still unclear how much remains. The pontoons appear to have floated off the marina columns in the cyclonic surge and te heavy concrete structure was ripped apart by the winds and waves and pontoons were sent inland and out to sea.
About 60km north of Cardwell, the tropical hideaway Dunk Island copped a beating from Cyclone Yasi. Its restaurant, main building and guest accommodation were razed. Only the staff village resembles something like a habitable structure.