Yasi strikes

Queensland endured a night of
terror as cyclone Yasi struck early Thursday morning, delivering 290km/h winds
and raging seas.

The category five storm made
landfall between Townsville and Cairns but concentrated its fury on the
100-kilometre strip of coast around Mission Beach, between Cardwell and
Innisfail, an area devastated by cyclone Larry in 2006.

The town of Mission Beach was hit
by the full force of the storm at midnight.

It tore apart buildings, ripped up
trees, and more than 90,000 sat through the night in the dark when power
supplies were cut.

Having done what they could to
protect lives and property, those in Yasi’s path could do no more than wait as
the driving rain and intensifying winds lashed their barricaded homes.

”If you pray, pray for us,” a
staff member at the Disaster Co-ordination Centre in Cairns said.

The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh,
said all of Australia would need to brace itself for what it would wake up to
this morning. She predicted a ”sense of devastation and heartbreak on an
unprecedented scale”.

Ms Bligh warned power would be lost
to vast areas of the state not affected by the cyclone, and could stay cut for
several days.

”We’re planning for an aftermath
that may cause a catastrophic failure of essential services.”

Ferocious winds were also lashing
Townsville and Cairns by midnight, throwing debris down the streets.

Small islands and coastal ham- lets
were abandoned as thousands of people sheltered in evacuation centres or fled
to higher ground.

Yasi will continue to torment today
as it rolls inland. It is forecast to retain serious cyclonic strength as it
passes over communities two hours from the coast and is not expected to
dissipate until it reaches the outback, 500 kilometres from the point of
impact.

As Queenslanders braced for the
biggest cyclone in the nation’s history, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard,
told them: ”In the hours of destruction that are coming, all of Australia is
going to be thinking of [you].”

The Bureau of Meteorology warned
the ”impact is likely to be more life-threatening than any experienced during
recent generations”.

In size, Yasi dwarfed cyclone
Tracy, which killed 71 people when it hit Darwin in 1974.