Queensland survives Cyclone Yasi with no known deaths
Cyclone Yasi was powerful enough to lift yachts from the water
Cyclone Yasi has battered the state of Queensland in north-eastern Australia, leaving a trail of destruction.
Worst hit were the coastal towns of Tully, Mission Beach and Cardwell, with hundreds of houses destroyed.
The cities of Cairns and Townsville were relatively unscathed but are being lashed by heavy rains; warnings of flash floods have been issued.
There have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries so far, although two people are missing.
“I’m very relieved this morning, but I do stress these are very early reports,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said. “It’s a long way to go before I say we’ve dodged any bullets.”
Warned to expect the worst storm in the state’s history, cities and towns were in complete lockdown. Over 10,000 local residents had sought refuge in the major evacuation centres in Cairns and Townsville.
Those cities were largely spared, but it is the smaller communities along the coast which bore the brunt of the storm. Huge palm trees and major power lines have been felled. The streets are strewn with debris.
Still, State Premier Anna Bligh said she had feared much wider devastation, given the scale of the storm, its once-in-a-century power, and the fact that it hit such a densely populated area.
The full scale of damage caused by the estimated 300km/h (190mph) winds is not yet known as power and phone lines are cut in some areas.
At least 180,000 homes are without electricity; relief workers are using heavy equipment to cut through fallen trees and debris.
Two men are missing in Innisfail, a town that was hit hard by the cyclone. Police said that they hoped both would be located when full mobile phone services resumed.
Homes boarded up
Cyclone Yasi hit the Queensland coast as a category five storm – the highest level – around midnight local time on Thursday (1400 GMT Wednesday).
Residents had known since Monday that a powerful cyclone was heading their way. Many had boarded up their houses and taken refuge in evacuation centres.
“Even as we worried about fellow Australians facing danger and very, very frightening hours I think at the same time we knew that they were facing that danger with courage, and that they were well prepared,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.
As Thursday wore on it became clear that the storm had not caused the widespread devastation that officials had feared.
In Cairns, residents have been told they can return home. Cairns Base Hospital has reopened more than 24 hours after evacuating all its patients to Brisbane.
Powerful winds in the city have twisted traffic lights, blown out glass and destroyed trees.
Both Cairns and Townsville were pounded by whipped up waves, although storm surges were not as high as had been predicted.
But it was the smaller communities between the two cities that were hardest hit by the storm.
Coastal homes have been destroyed, their roofs ripped off, and residents have reported the destruction of banana, sugar cane and other crops.
In Cardwell, boats were piled on top of each other in the Port Hinchinbrook Marina. A storm surge there sent boats up to two blocks inland, ABC news reported.
Emergency services in another town, Tully, said that up to 90% of buildings there had been extensively damaged.
“Nothing’s been spared. The devastation is phenomenal, like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” said David Brook, the manager of a resort at Mission Beach, in the direct path of the cyclone.
“It was really terrifying, but we were safe,” said Barbara Kendall, a coastal resident reported as having spent the night in her car with her husband and cats.
“It’s a terrifying sound. It’s really hard to describe. All I could hear was the screeching of the wind.”
Residents across the affected area are still being told to exercise a great deal of caution and evacuation centres remain open.
“The last thing we want is some sort of casualty when people might think we have the all clear,” Cairns Mayor Val Schier said.
Cyclone Yasi has been downgraded to a category two storm as it continues to cross north-eastern Australia.
It is now heading towards the town of Isa, in the far west of Queensland.