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Australian towns in northern Queensland prepare for Cyclone Yasi

posted 2 Feb 2011, 05:05 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 2 Feb 2011, 05:07 ]

Flattened by Cyclone Larry five years ago, Australian towns in northern Queensland brace for a much more ferocious Cyclone Yasi.

CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA (FEBRUARY 2, 2011)  NETWORK TEN - Thousands of residents crammed into shelters and others made last-minute storm preparations in northeastern Australia as a cyclone, described as the most powerful in the country's history, barreled toward the coastline on Wednesday (February 2).

More than 400,000 people live in the cyclone's expected path, which includes the cities of Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. The entire stretch is popular with tourists and includes Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Cyclone Yasi was upgraded to a maximum-strength category five storm, with the massive storm system covering an area bigger than Italy or New Zealand.

"If it hits as big as its going to hit, the house won't even be here tomorrow - so I don't even know why I'm bothering," said one Cairns resident as he boarded up his home with plywood.

Some residents had to be turned away from overcrowded shelters packed to the brim with evacuees.

"Try Redlynch, if it's full we'll go somewhere else - if that's full we might find a big tree and lie under that," said one resident.

The area between Cairns and Innisfail will face the full force of the cyclone.

Police began knocking on homes along Cairns beach on Wednesday (February 2) morning and warned remaining residents to get out as soon as they could.

Cairns airport has been closed and planes have been tied to the ground ahead.

Many tourists have had no choice but to bunker down until the cyclone passes.

"Well we're in the hotel down here and we'll take the outside furniture in and close the curtains. Hopefully that will take care of us," said one American tourist.

Those who have chosen to stay have stocked up on essential goods such as ice and fuel. Most stores and service stations were closed in the evening.

Meanwhile, in the township of Innisfail (100km south of Cairns), residents were bracing for a much more powerful storm than Cyclone Larry, which hit the region five years ago.

Hundreds have taken refuge in the town's hall, bringing with them clothes, food, and water. Cyclone Yasi is expected to hit the coast at high tide - the worst possible time.

"We're losing a house. We're losing friends. It's scary. It really is," said a crying young girl.

"We were only the first street or two going back, being evacuated now we're looking at four or five streets going back," said Innisfail Mayor Neil Clarke.

Some chose to evacuate too late and missed the window of opportunity to leave.

The Lawrence family, who lost their home to Cyclone Larry, were unable to leave for Mackay.

"It's category 5. I don't know. I don't know. We don't know where else to go," said the mother of the Lawrence family.

Engineers warned that even "cyclone proof" homes could be blown apart by winds expected to reach 300 km (186 miles) per hour when it hits later on Wednesday.

Yasi is a maximum-strength category five storm, on a par with Hurricane Katrina which wrecked New Orleans in 2005. Its centre is expected to hit land a little after midnight (1400 GMT).