Roofing contractors from Townsville Mark Gonners and Riley Campbell on the job at the Wilmar factory on Monday.
Roofing contractors from Townsville Mark Gonners and Riley Campbell on the job at the Wilmar factory on Monday. Peter Carruthers

Challenge ahead for mill after TC Debbie

ALONG with so many homes and businesses, Wilmar's Proserpine mill did not escape Cyclone Debbie unscathed.

Mill manager Danny Van der Berg said the mill sustained damage to the roof with "substantial" sections that needed repair and the boiler stack also copped a hiding.

"There was mechanical equipment damage from rain and then general roof damage around the factory, including substantial sections of roof missing," he said.

Mr Van der Berg said some damage was obvious but the collapse of the refractory lining of the boiler was something that required specialist knowledge to diagnose and repair. Also bagasse piles neighbouring the mill had covers ripped off.

The good news was the cane trash, used as boiler fuel, was not as wet as first thought after moisture analysis and was not expected to have a significant bearing on the boiler operation when the crush began.

Mr Van der Berg said the big question faced by the Wilmar team was to work out what was going to be done first in the immediate wake of Cyclone Debbie.

A three phase plan was agreed on.

First on the to do list was to get the factory in a safe state.

Phase one included a community support program and supporting employees in desperate need.

Phase two involved doing a thorough damage assessment and understanding the damage and the repair bill.

Some questions were easy because it was visual but other damage required an in depth inspection.

To understand the damage and extent of roof damage needed a proper survey, Mr Van der Berg said.

Phase three was the execution of the work.

"We are in the process of employing contractors on-site starting (on Monday)," he said.

"Guys are beginning the remedial repair and will start the urgent stuff first."


Mr Van der Berg said there were many unknowns when crushing cane affected by such a severe storm.

"We don't quite understand the impact yet," he said.

"What we will find is getting to the mill and harvested, the purity will be down and there will be debris ingested into the factory," he said.

"We are starting to get our heads around what that will actually mean, the challenge of processing a crop after a cyclone."


Aside from the logistical challenge Mr Van der Berg expected all sectors would feel the pinch this season.

"Once you take the sources of revenue down by 25 or 30% that is a substantial amount of money taken out of the community," he said.

Mr Van der Berg said on the back of a bumper harvest last year it would be especially tough.

"Growers, harvesting contractors and seasonal workers rely on that income until Christmas. But like any strong community we will bounce back," he said.

"And the community will rally together to get through it.

"It's important that regional leaders come together and support people where we can."

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