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Australia sends in troops after mega-cyclone

Marcus Burt (L) and Luke Hughes (R) display a sign to discourage onlookers after Cyclone Yasi devastated the coastal hamlet of Tully Heads on February 2 and 3 amidst ruined furniture from their homes on February 5, 2011. The category five storm laid waste to entire towns, hurled luxury yachts around like toys and shredded enormous swathes of banana and sugar crops, adding an estimated 0.25 percentage points to inflation. Photo courtesy AFP.

Police seize Rio slums without resistance
Rio De Janeiro (AFP) Feb 6, 2011 - Hundreds of police and military troops early Sunday occupied nine slums in central Rio de Janeiro that had been in the hands of drug traffickers, in the first such operation since November. The nearly 1,000 civilian, military and federal police backed by 17 armored vehicles, four amphibian vehicles and marine riflemen faced little opposition in the two-hour operation that kicked off at dawn, officials said. "The situation is calm and we have completed the first part of the operation -- controlling the territory," military spokesman Colonel Lima Castro told CBN radio.

The security forces were also launching a month-long search for weapons and drugs in the now occupied shantytowns home to some 26,000 inhabitants, part of a plan by authorities to regain control of Rio's slums. The city, known for both its beauty and its endemic violence, is the scheduled venue for both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. A first counternarcotics operation was launched in November in the Complexo de Alemao favelas, a bastion of drug traffickers in northern Rio vanquished by 2,600 police and military troops.

"Thank God, the occupation took place peacefully and the community did not suffer," Morro dos Prazeres favela neighborhood association Elisa Brandao told O Globo newspaper. She said drug traffickers had left the neighborhood in recent days to avoid confrontation with police who had warned inhabitants about the operation. Rio state's Public Security Secretary Mariano Beltrame welcomed the peaceful takeover. "The priority is to conquer the territory without having more stray bullets, or dead and wounded civilians," he told reporters, noting the police did not fire a single shot and encountered no drug traffickers.
by Staff Writers
Cardwell, Australia (AFP) Feb 5, 2011
Australia on Friday sent in 4,000 troops to help coastal towns left splintered by a monster cyclone, as officials urged stranded victims to stay calm until help arrives.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the move -- the country's biggest domestic military mobilisation in more than 30 years -- would aid north Queensland's recovery after the category five storm roared into the state Thursday.

"It's a very big deployment," she said.

The announcement came amid reports of looting following the storm, and following the first death linked to the storm, dubbed Yasi: a young man who suffocated on fumes from a generator running in an enclosed space.

Canberra sent 1,500 soldiers last month to help clean up after floods devastated Queensland's state capital Brisbane and surrounding areas, killing more than 30 people.

The biggest storm to hit Australia in a century wrought huge damage to small coastal communities, cutting some of them off completely, with estimates it may cost the country up to $5 billion.

Hundreds of rescuers were cutting their way through fallen trees, power lines and wreckage to reach towns pummelled by the category five cyclone, while tens of thousands languished without power, water or communications.

"We do understand that many people in the highly impacted areas are getting anxious about the level of support and contact they are able to have with emergency authorities," state Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said.

"We just ask them to be patient.... There have been significant difficulties in terms of access," he told reporters.

Aerial photos revealed massive destruction in Cardwell, with splintered boats hurled on top of each other several blocks inland, entire city blocks reduced to mud, and tarmac roadways fractured.

In nearby Tully Heads, some houses were completely washed away while only the debris-littered shells of others remained.

A sea of household items such as microwave ovens, fridges and pool tables, created an obstacle course for vehicles in the streets.

Most residents had fled their homes following mandatory evacuation orders, a move that appeared to have spared the region fatalities, but state Premier Anna Bligh warned that as rescuers searched the ruins, there could be "some sad news in the next couple of days".

More than 150,000 people remained without power across the region south of the city of Cairns, the tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, while thousands of others had no running water.

Residents who evacuated as the storm bore down were returning to their houses to see what damage had been done. Police said 11 people were arrested for what they termed "disgraceful" looting since Wednesday.

Catastrophe modeller EQECAT, heavily relied on by the insurance industry, estimated that damages could cost Australia $3-$5 billion.

But a separate modelling firm, AIR Worldwide, put the cost much lower, saying the storm could generate between Aus$350 million ($350 million) and Aus$1.5 billion in insurance claims.

It said damage was "less than expected" but losses could exceed those from Cyclone Larry, which ravaged the same area in 2006, causing around Aus$1.5 billion in damage to crops and property and Aus$540 million in insured losses.

Yasi could add 0.25 percentage points to inflation after savaging large parts of the nation's sugar cane and banana crops, sending bananas and other produce prices skywards, Treasurer Wayne Swan said.

"Of course it hits your pocket, it hits at the checkout, no doubt about that, it makes life tougher for a lot of people," he said.

But Gillard told reporters that while a proposed levy to pay for rebuilding after last month's floods would not be used for post-cyclone recovery, funds would be found to ease recovery from the current disaster.

"We will need to find additional resources in the federal government's budget to meet the needs of recovering from this cyclone and we will need to make some very tough decisions to make money available," she said.

"But we will do that to make sure we have the resources available to rebuild in north and far north Queensland. We will rebuild from the flood as we have to rebuild here too. We will do both."

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Australia flags taxpayer levy for floods
Sydney (AFP) Jan 21, 2011
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Friday raised the prospect of a one-off tax to pay for rebuilding after epic floods, as rising waters prompted more evacuations in the southeast. Crops, roads and railway lines were washed away and thousands of homes destroyed by vast floods that swamped Queensland state this month in what the government has said could be the nation's most costly natur ... read more

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