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Yasi wreaks havoc but no fatalities

Published: 11:15AM Thursday February 03, 2011 Source: ONE News

The worst of  Cyclone Yasi now appears to be past, and the storm has been downgraded to a category two size.

North Queensland residents are yet to learn just how destructive Yasi has been after a terrifying night where the region was battered by one of the worst cyclones in living memory.

The cyclone hit the coast between Cairns and Townsville as a category five storm, with wind gusts of up to 290km/h, around 3am (NZT).

Reports of the damage caused by the cyclone are slowly filtering through, with the smaller towns south of Cairns appearing to have borne the brunt of the storm.

The town of Mission Beach, where Yasi first made landfall is being described as "ground zero" and preliminary assessments in the town of Tully have revealed 90% of the buildings along the main street to be extensively damaged.

Early this morning there were also reports of roofs being torn from houses, trees stripped and power poles knocked over in the town.

Cassowary Coast councillor Ross Sorbello said the roof had been torn from his mother's house, where he was waiting out the storm, and other properties had suffered similar damage.

"We are talking about a pretty strong brick house that was built in the 70s, so god help us in the morning when we look at some of the older places," he said.

Sorbello ventured outside briefly during the eye of the storm to assess the damage and said the streets were strewn with debris while power poles had been knocked over.

"It is just a scene of mass devastation," he said. "(Cyclone) Larry was a boy compared to this."

Kiwi  storm chaser Geoff Mackley was in Mission Beach when the cyclone hit and described it on TV ONE's Breakfast this morning as "more than powerful than Hurricane Katrina was when it hit New Orleans".

The general manager of one of the resorts used as a shelter, David Brook, said the area now looked like "Vietnam (in the war movie) Apocalypse Now".

"Trees are down, cars have been swept away, roofs have been torn away and the sand on the beach has disappeared," Brook said.

"The devastation is phenomenal, like nothing I've ever experienced," he added.

Fears are also held for the towns of Cardwell and Innisfail.

Innisfail, which is home to much of the state's banana crop, was devastated by Cyclone Larry in 2006, and there is speculation that Yasi could have damaged 90% of the bananas.

As the cyclone tracks south, it is losing a significant amount of its strength, but Townsville is still experiencing heavy rain and high winds.

Power has been cut to more than 170,000 homes and in some areas residents are being warned to to expect it to be returned for several days yet.

No deaths or serious injuries as a result of the storm have been reported and all the evacuation centres have emerged unscathed - as have their 10,000 plus occupants.

Late last night, state disaster coordinator Ian Stewart said deaths were "very likely" as he detailed the plight of a group of six holed up in a Port Hinchinbrook unit complex, calling for help that simply could not be sent. The group made contact with authorities this morning and are safe and well.

However, stories of hope are also emerging amongst the devastation.

There was a moment of joy this morning when a woman in one of the evacuation centres in Cairns, Akiko Bruss, gave birth to a baby girl. Mother and daughter are said to be doing well, but the baby will not be named Yasi.

While some are saying Cairns has "dodged a bullet" after the worst of the storm hit south of the area, Bligh said it was too early to say anywhere had a done that.

"While the early news is certainly not anything like I expected to hear this morning from a category five cyclone, I do stress in many places we've yet to see any assessment," she said.

"But I do stress it's far too early to start talking about dodging bullets."

She issued stern warnings that it is not safe to emerge from shelter yet.

Storm surges have not been as bad as expected, but high tide is not due to hit until later in the morning.

The Australian Defence Force has created a joint task force with the Queensland emergency services as they prepare to enter damaged areas.

A clearer idea of the devastation that has been caused is expected to be revealed later in the day.

Have you been affected by Cyclone Yasi? Send your stories and pictures to news@tvnz.co.nz .

 

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