Farming villages tap the power within --- YASI


IT was impossible for overstretched emergency resources trying to cope with the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi to respond to every call, or address every crisis, in the first two days.
Calls were made on the service from Innisfail to Bowen, and west to Hughenden -- thousands of square kilometres of country.
Chainsaws were the most sought-after item on Thursday morning when dawn broke and people emerged from their homes and shelters to see the devastation. Trees blocked roads and highways and electricity poles had been torn from the ground.
Emergency services concentrated on the higher population centres such as Innisfail, Tully and Cardwell, while Mission Beach, Silkwood, El Arish and smaller centres had to make do until the cavalry arrived.
It did not take long for the chainsaws to appear, along with trucks, utes, trailers, bobcats and tractors. This is farming country, after all, where people are used to doing things for themselves rather than waiting to have work done for them.
Italian-born Enning Defend, 60, has lived in Silkwood, north of Tully, since he was brought to Australia as a four-year-old.
Yesterday he was busy with his chainsaw, cutting fallen trees on his property and that of his neighbours.
He was in New Zealand when he heard of Cyclone Yasi, so he hurried home because he knew his house would be in the path of destruction.
``I have been working in the North Island, building power transmission lines, but I could see what was going to happen so I jumped on a plane home,'' he said.
``My house was not damaged all that much, but I was more worried about my father, who is 88, and Mum, who is 85.
``They live here in Silkwood and Dad has emphysema -- he was a smoker -- and he depends on a ventilator to breathe.''
Mr Defend said the ventilator had been running with a generator since the power went off, ``but now we are having trouble keeping the fuel up to it''.
``It was a wild night on Wednesday, but this is nature at work in this part of Australia,'' he said. ``You will see how all the neighbours are helping each other with the clean-up. There is even a backhoe operator who brought his machine to assist, and we don't even know his name.
``That's the way we do things up here -- everybody helps because it is a real community.''
Self-help was also the order of the day at nearby El Arish, established after World War I under the ill-fated soldiers' settlement scheme. Farmland was allocated to returned Diggers so they could feed their families -- and hopefully produce a cash crop.
With power out there are also problems with providing household water for washing, drinking and flushing toilets. And refrigerators and freezers are out of commission unless the home owner has a fuel-powered generator.
Yesterday there were radio appeals for people who were not affected by Yasi to lend generators and caravans to people in Tully and associated villages.