The Australian Defence Force prepares to respond to the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie across the Whitsundays.
The Australian Defence Force prepares to respond to the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie across the Whitsundays. SARAH MOTHERWELL

Army vows: 'We'll make the Whitsundays great again'

AN ARMY of soldiers, emergency services volunteers and power workers is converging on the Whitsundays to help locals make their region "great again".

An Australian Defence Force helicopter flew over Proserpine and Bowen on Wednesday, as ADF personnel started taking stock of the damage left behind by Cyclone Debbie.

The damage bill is expected to be in the billions, with the category four cyclone also impacting Mackay, Isaac, Burdekin, Townsville City, Palm Island, Charters Towers and Hinchinbrook.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart and State Disaster Recovery Coordinator Brigadier Christopher Field inspected the damage across the region on Wednesday afternoon and were to meet with local authorities later in the day.

As he waited for the Premier to touch down, Whitsundays Mayor Cr Andrew Willcox said the ADF troops would join hundreds of emergency services volunteers, power workers and other professionals as they worked to open roads and restore power across the region.

Cr Willcox said the rebuild would be a long and slow process.

"We've got quite a few defence personnel coming in - the early ones will do reconnaissance," he said, indicating heavy equipment was being used to clear roads as fast as possible.

"They will report back on how many troops are needed and they will help us with the clean-up.

"We'll have hundreds and hundreds of people on the job.

"We've got a huge region and every single part of it has been hit by this cyclone."

Cr Willcox said he was shocked by the destruction but he was confident the community would fight back.

"It's devastating to see the damage but if there is a good side it's that we've had no loss of life and only minimal injuries.

"Now we've just got to get in rebuild and then we'll make the Whitsundays great again."

Defence Force boss Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin said the ADF personnel would help with evacuations, search and rescue, road clearance, restoration of essential services, emergency accommodation and delivery of supplies.

Landing ship HMAS Choules will carry humanitarian assistance, disaster relief stores and Army engineering support equipment to the Whitsunday islands.

It was due to leave Brisbane at 5pm on Wednesday.

Two Navy MRH90 helicopters have been deployed to support Army rotary wing aircraft already in Townsville.

Air Force aircraft in Townsville, Amberley and Darwin are on standby to provide airlift capability for the delivery of essential stores and equipment as well as wide area surveillance.

Troops and engineering equipment from the Townsville-based Three Brigade will provide support within the region.

"We are ready and able to respond to this emergency in support of civilian emergency authorities and the residents of north eastern Queensland once the full impact of Debbie is known," Air Chief Marshal Binskin said in a media release.

Powerlink has begun an aerial inspection of the 90km Proserpine-Collinsville transmission line while another crew is inspecting the substation and undertaking re-energisation checks.

"The Government has deployed a large contingent of ADF personnel and resources and Commonwealth agencies are helping to restore services to affected communities," local MP George Christensen said.

- ARM NEWSDESK



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