Australians braced for 'devastation' as Yasi hits
Australians have been warned to brace themselves for "scenes of devastation on an unprecedented scale" after Queensland was battered by a cyclone the size of Italy yesterday.
Tens of thousands were trapped in makeshift shelters in homes, shopping centres and school halls and others were turned away from packed evacuation centres as the state was battered by 290kph winds.
Hundreds of soldiers were on standby in the state's north-east as the "savage" category- five Cyclone Yasi whipped up waves more than seven metres high. Anna Bligh, the state's premier, warned Queenslanders, who are still trying to recover from the damage caused by floods, to prepare for terrible scenes after sunrise.
"Without doubt we are set for scenes of devastation and heartbreak on an unprecedented scale," she said. "This cyclone is like nothing else this nation has ever seen. The next 24 hours will be very tough."
Ms Bligh said that the conditions were so bad emergency workers could not be sent out to rescue people who found themselves in difficulty. "These are not conditions where you can put up a helicopter to do a winch rescue. All of that is beyond the realm of possibility."
Yasi ripped roofs from homes, uprooted huge trees and knocked out power to more than 90,000 people during the night.
The coastline south of the town of Innisfail, which was flattened by Cyclone Larry in 2006, bore the brunt of the vast weather system's force. Several residents who tried to flee low-lying properties in Cairns were advised to return home, find the strongest room in the house and hunker down for the next 24 hours.
Alan Sharp from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said the La Nina weather phenomenon was helping to drive record ocean temperatures around Australia that were powering Cyclone Yasi.
La Nina events historically bring floods and an increase in cyclones during the Australian storm season from November to April. Scientists say there is a likely climate-change link to the current La Nina through higher sea-surface temperatures.
Selwyn Hughes, turned away from a shopping centre taken over as a shelter, stood with his family outside in the car park and said his only comfort was in numbers.
"There are so many of us here. Surely they have to do something, find somewhere safer to move us to before it arrives," he said, squatting on a pink suitcase with his five children, aged two to 13.
Engineers warned that Yasi could even blow apart 'cyclone- proof' homes when its centre moved overland, despite building standards designed to protect homes from a growing number of giant storms.
Ms Bligh said the cyclone could batter the state for up to three days as it moved inland and slowly weakened.
She said a giant nine-metre wave had been recorded off the coast, highlighting what is likely to be the greatest threat to life: surges of water metres above normal high-tide levels in the worst-affected coastal areas.
More than 400,000 people live in the cyclone's path, including the cities of Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. The entire stretch is popular with tourists, includes the Great Barrier Reef, and is home to major coal and sugar ports.
The military is helping evacuate nearly 40,000 people from low-lying coastal areas, and from the two hospitals in Cairns. (©Daily Telegraph, London)