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Devastation at epicentre of Australian mega-cyclone

by Staff Writers
Cardwell, Australia (AFP) Feb 4, 2011
Smashed yachts lay stacked like matchwood near a marina, while the ruined husk of a church, its walls sheered off as if from tank fire, stood vigil amidst the ruins of Cyclone Yasi.

As rescuers struggled Friday to get to areas worst hit by Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi's 290-kilometre (180-mile) per hour winds, they witnessed scenes of destruction that rival a war zone.

Although rescuers and soldiers have yet to make it to some of the worst hit areas because road closures are preventing them getting to "ground zero", officials and locals say the damage is humbling.

But there have been no confirmed deaths caused directly by Yasi.

In the town of Cardwell, "ground zero" of the storm's terrifying impact, a pensioner in his eighties who did not evacuate before Yasi hit huddled in his bathroom, one of the only parts of his former beachfront home still standing.

"I underestimated the strength of it a bit," said 83-year-old Theodore Chrisohos. "I've lived through four cyclones, but that was something else," he said as rescuers arrived in the devastated town.

Some of the most shocking images are from the marina at Port Hinchinbrook near Cardwell, where massive yachts were hurled through the air, landing blocks away -- some inside homes.

Aerial photos show Cardwell buried in mud from the storm surge, with huge trees blocking the Bruce Highway, which passes along the thin strip of land between the ocean and rainforest-covered mountains.

Dozens of luxury yachts, some 20 metres (65 feet) long, lay smashed against each other or the shoreline. Floating walkways were twisted among the other wreckage and luxury homes had been shattered.

Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, on a 30-minute tour of the nearby town of Tully that appears to have been among the worst hit by Yasi's pounding winds and torrential rain, said he was shocked by the level of devastation.

Doubled-over street lamps arched over the debris-strewn main street of the small Queensland community south of Cairns that officials said had received 90 percent damage.

"It's a war zone," Swan said.

Rescuers who were hacking their way through debris to reach towns on the country's northeastern coast that have been effectively isolated by Yasi were finding scenes reminiscent of battle zones.

Fisherman Stephen Hughes, who described the scene as "catastrophic", is the owner of one of only four vessels that appear to have survived the storm surge in Port Hinchinbrook.

"There's got to be Aus$20 million to Aus$30 million worth of ships wrecked here," he said.

Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh appeared visibly shaken as she stood on a slab of concrete torn from the road by the winds.

"No briefing can prepare you for what it is like out there on the ground, this is complete devastation of some of our prettiest little towns," she said.

"This is a major recovery effort and like Cyclone Larry and Innisfail, it's going to take a long time."

Youth worker Sean Keenan hunkered down at work with his partner and daughter as the worst of the storm raged around them. He returned home Friday, like so many, to find his house -- his first -- a ruined shell.

"We moved in about a week-and-a-half ago -- first-time buyers and we're now officially homeless," he told ABC Television.

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Australia reels from once-in-a-century cyclone
Tully, Australia (AFP) Feb 3, 2011
Australia's biggest cyclone in a century shattered entire towns, pummelling the coast and churning across the country Thursday, terrifying locals but causing no confirmed fatalities. Shaken residents emerged to check the damage after Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi hit land at around midnight, packing winds of up to 290 kilometres (180 miles) per hour in a region still reeling from record flood ... read more

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