Fierce cyclone `Yasi` hits Australia

Gillard said Yasi was going to be the worst cyclone ever to hit Australia.

Updated: Feb 03, 2011, 00:08 AM IST

Melbourne: Australia`s worst ever cyclone
`Yasi’ on Wednesday hit the country`s flood-ravaged northern
Queensland province, wrecking havoc and damaging houses.

Yasi of category five was travelling at 29 km per hour
and was estimated to be 150 km east north-east of Innisfail
and 175 km east of Cairns.

It was moving in a west-south-west direction.

Innisfail Mayor Bill Shannon said he had already seen
the roof torn from a building near the council chambers where 500 people are sheltering.

"The eye is five hours away and it`s already causing
damage so it`s pretty worrying," he said on the worst cyclone
that hit the country since 1918.

Cyclone Yasi`s arrival has been pushed back until
midnight Queensland time.

The Bureau of Meteorology said, "The very destructive
core of Cyclone Yasi will cross the coast near Innisfail close
to midnight, accompanied by a dangerous storm time south of
the cyclone centre."

Damaging winds with gusts of 90 km per hour are
currently affecting the coast and islands, and are forecast to
spread into the tropical interior overnight and west to Julia
Creek tomorrow.

Emergency alerts have been issued for parts of the
Atherton Tableland, inland from where Cyclone Yasi is expected
to make landfall.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in her message
to Queenslanders said, "In the hours of destruction that are
coming to them, all of Australia is going to be thinking of
them. Our thoughts are with you."

Gillard said Yasi was probably going to be the worst
cyclone ever to hit Australia.

"(Yasi) is a powerful natural force but the courage of
the people of far north Queensland is an even stronger force
again," she said.

Premier Anna Bligh advised people to stay in their
homes and bunker down for the biggest cyclone since World War
I and prepare to "become a first-responder".

"No one should be leaving home now. The time for
movement and evacuation has now passed," she said.

"We expect to see very dramatic acceleration of wind
and wind gusts over the next 24 hours. It is now time for all
movement and evacuations to cease."

Yasi threatens to batter the coast with 300 km per
hour winds and a storm surge up to 7 m late tonight.

Cairns and Townsville airports were closed this
morning. More than 10,600 people are in evacuation centres,
including school halls and shopping centres, to ride out the
storm.

Power was cut off for over 3000 properties in Airlie
Beach - and the streets in the northern towns were deserted.

PTI

"They get wet but it is far more dangerous to panic and run out of the house than to stay bunkered down."

Thousands of people have already fled the area since Monday and seaside residents were urged to desert their homes ahead of a dangerous storm surge of between 2.3 and seven metres (yards) that was likely to cause major flooding.

Two hospitals in Cairns have been evacuated and shuttered, and their patients were airlifted on military planes to the city of Brisbane.

But airports and ports in Cairns and other cities down the coast were shut to traffic Wednesday as winds picked up strength, while remaining residents battened down in the safest rooms in their homes and prayed for safety.

The streets of Cairns, usually bustling with holidaymakers and diving enthusiasts, were eerily deserted. Eight evacuation centres set up to shelter those who were forced to flee their homes were full.

"We have a mild sense of panic. The worst thing is the waiting," government worker Iony Woolaghan told a news agency from Townsville, where officials say more than 10,000 homes are at risk of flooding.

The storm`s size and power dwarfs Cyclone Tracy, which hit the northern Australian city of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people and flattening more than 90 percent of its houses.

It will also be twice the size and far stronger than the category four Cyclone Larry that caused Aus$1.5 billion ($1.5 billion) of damage after hitting agricultural areas around Innisfail, just south of Cairns, in 2006.

Forecasters said Yasi could be "horrific" and take 24 hours to weaken after it makes landfall.

Bureau Report