Airlie Beach workers in crisis as tourists set to avoid town after Cyclone Debbie


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JOBLESS families down to their last few cents may have to leave this formerly thriving town as it waves goodbye to its biggest industry.

Tourists are cancelling trips to Airlie Beach in droves, most businesses remain closed and residents are panicking about what happens if they can’t get back to work.

Cyclone Debbie laid waste to homes and businesses, but it’s only now visitor numbers are slowing to a trickle that locals are feeling the full extent of her wrath.

An Airlie Beach hotel housekeeper told she expected to be out of a job within days after the final tourists sheltering at the property had departed. “Once the last people have gone, we’ll clean up and then I think it will shut down for a while,” she said. “I was a nurse originally, but the hospital here only has 37 beds. Now I don’t think there are going to be many hospitality jobs either.”




After a week of giving out food and drink for free, hotel and restaurant owners now have to slash prices, as well as spending thousands on repairing damage. While the Government has pledged to assist the recovery effort, it won’t be enough to save everyone who lives in the popular holiday destination.

Conor Smallman, 25, told he had been left jobless after the vessel he sails sank during the cyclone. “The boat I work on is underwater,” he said. “I’m unemployed. I was at my friend’s house and his boss went down to the marina and told us.

“A few other boats were scratched, a couple of others were f***ed but ours is the worst. I’m just taking each moment as it comes.”

Tour operators will be among those worst affected by a slowdown in travel to the Whitsundays. Ocean Rafting normally sends out three boats a day, every day of the year except Christmas Day, but deployed its first in a week on Saturday to survey the extensive damage to the islands and the reef. It will suffer if tourists stop turning up to the famous region.

The track above the iconic Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island was impassable on Saturday and signs and toilets destroyed. It will cost millions to repair.





But it isn’t just the obvious beneficiaries of the tourist dollar who are suffering. Emma Upston, who runs a small cleaning business in Proserpine, said she had shut up shop for the foreseeable future and was helping with the recovery effort for free. “We’re closed until the need is back,” she told “I can’t work without power and with everything happening, people don’t have the money to pay a cleaner … quite a few of our clients have lost their roofs.

“People are finding it really hard with the added expenses, generators and so on, especially young families who are struggling anyway. They’ve lost a lot of stuff. Just to survive, they’ve spent every last cent.

“I’m just trying to help. We’re setting up a hub in Proserpine if anyone needs help and we’re handing out blankets, doonas, pillows, towels, nappies and formula.”


We have already heard from the first two residents determined to leave their long-term homes after Debbie unleashed. Dave McInerney became one of the faces of the disaster after his Shute Harbour Motel suffered catastrophic damage and he admitted it was the last straw for him.

Mr McInnerney sheltered in the toilet of one of the rooms with his caretaker Dave Thompson and dog Spotty during the wild weather, but told AAP he would probably leave town now.

“It depends a lot on the insurance,” he said. “More than likely it’ll be demolished and sold as a development site. These days it’s really not worth rebuilding a small business like this.”

Mr Thompson said he would “probably pack up and go now, that’s enough.”

After leaving in Airlie Beach for 18 years, he said he was ready to go. “I’ve worked in the Gulf of Carpentaria and seen some pretty bad storms but this one took the cake.”

“The windows came in and that was it. Lucky I moved when I did because the whole back of the building came off.

“We just listened to it demolish around us.”

Online Source: The News

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