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Cyclone Debbie

Hamilton Island faces massive five-month rebuild

Hamilton Island faces a massive five-month rebuild but will partly reopen for business next Saturday after “all hell broke loose”. Exclusive pictures obtained by The Sunday Mail shows the “apocalyptic” scale of destruction to privately owned homes, luxury hotels and yachts at ground zero in the cyclone-ravaged Whitsundays.

Hamilton Island chief executive Glenn Bourke yesterday told almost 600 staff of the massive task ahead to clean-up and rebuild the island resort that has played host to celebrities Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey. The former Olympian paid tribute to the “resilience” of staff and hit back at “erroneous” comments on social media by some of 3000 stranded tourists when the monster storm scored a direct hit, packing 260km/h winds, on Tuesday.

Mr Bourke addressed a packed community meeting of the island’s nearly 2000 staff and 500 residents and business owners, quoting poet Dorothea MacKellar’s famous lines of “I love a sunburnt country” suggesting she might have added “cyclones and the atrocities we’ve all ­endured”.

“What we’ve already proven is we’re a tough and resilient community who in the Australian vernacular are always here to help a mate,’’ he said. “We want to celebrate the fact we had no loss of life, celebrate the actions of so many of you, and celebrate the resilience we have shown. What we faced was both terrifying and demanding in epic proportions. We know the structure of the roofs let us down, once the roofs were released, all hell broke loose.”

Hamilton Island owner Sandy Oatley, whose late dad Bob bought the resort for about $200 million in 2003 and spent $350 million on its redevelopment, has been on the island in the cyclone’s aftermath and guaranteed no staff will lose their jobs.

Airlines will resume up to two flights a day from next Saturday for the peak Easter holiday period. Luxury Qualia resort will be shut down for two months and be completely refurbished with its hotels fully occupied and fully operational by August in the week before Race Week.

Nikki Phillips, the island’s longest-term resident of 35 years, said the Whitsunday island resort had been through fires, airline strikes, bankruptcy and more than eight cyclones since it was built by developer Keith Williams. “This will be our biggest test yet. We will come back bigger and better than ever,” she said.

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by Peter Michael

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