Prince William tours disaster-hit Australia

The prince arrived in Australia following a two-day visit to New Zealand.

Updated: Mar 19, 2011, 12:05 PM IST

Cardwell: Britain`s Prince William met crowds in cyclone-hit northeast Australia on Saturday as part of a low-key tour officials hope will boost spirits after a summer of natural disasters.

The second-in-line to the British throne flew into a military base in Townsville before boarding a Black Hawk helicopter to travel to the coastal towns of Cardwell and Tully which were last month smashed by Cyclone Yasi.

The prince was met with cheers and applause as he arrived in tropical Cardwell, shaking hands with residents and accepting a colourful toy kookaburra bird ahead of a lunch with emergency volunteers and community leaders.

"He was just asking people whether they were recovering OK," one local told Sky News.

The prince`s Australia tour takes in the Cassowary Coast which was badly hit by Yasi, as well as Queensland towns which suffered unprecedented floods in January and southern Victoria state which also endured summer deluges.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said many people were still living in "desperate circumstances" because of the damage wrought by Yasi`s roaring winds which reached up to 300 kilometres (185 miles) an hour and lashing rains.

She said for those communities hit by the category five storm that wrecked homes and crops, sharing a "sausage sizzle" and perhaps a beer could lift their spirits.

"At the end today they will go home again to pretty desperate circumstances and this visit won`t change that," she told Sky News. "But it might just gladden their hearts and that`s I think a helpful thing."

"I think throughout these events people find it very, very healing to come together in community events, so not only will they be seeing the prince today they will be seeing each other."

William arrived in Australia following an emotionally charged two-day visit to New Zealand in which he paid tribute to more than 200 people killed in recent earthquake and coal mine tragedies.

On Friday, Prince William walked among the rubble of Christchurch following the February 22 earthquake and expressed shock at the devastation before attending a memorial service for the estimated 182 people killed.

The previous day he visited Greymouth, on the South Island`s West Coast, and met the families of 29 miners killed late last year when a gas explosion tore through the Pike River colliery.

"I think what we`ve seen in New Zealand is a prince with a very human touch and a lot of compassion and you can`t have too much of that in Cardwell and Tully at the moment," Bligh said.

Bligh said many Queensland communities were still grieving after floods left more than 30 people dead, including babies swept away from their parents` arms, but said this was nothing on the scale of the disaster in Christchurch or the 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami which hit Japan.

"But for a little town, when you lose a number of people then everybody feels it," she said.

Bureau Report