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Narrow escapes from Australia cyclone horror

This overview shows boats previously moored in the Hinchenbrook Marina lying smashed after catastrophic winds and storm surge caused by Cyclone Yasi in Cardwell on February 3, 2011. Australia's biggest cyclone in a century shattered entire towns after striking the coast and churning across the vast country, but officials expressed relief that no one was killed. Terrified 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 floods. Photo courtesy AFP.

Chronology of major cyclones in Australia
Sydney (AFP) Feb 3, 2011 - Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi tore into the Queensland coast Thursday, Australia's most powerful storm in a century with sustained winds of up to 290 kilometres (180 miles) per hour.

There were no immediate reports of deaths, but Queensland premier Anna Bligh warned of extensive damage to a region already reeling from months of flooding.

Herewith a chronology of the most powerful severe tropical cyclones to hit Australia since Tracy obliterated Darwin in 1974, based on Bureau of Meteorology records:

December 1974: Severe Tropical Cyclone Tracy, a much smaller storm than Yasi, kills 71 people around Darwin and flattens more than 90 percent of the northern city's houses.

March-April 1978: Alby kills five people in Western Australia and causes widespread damage.

January 1981: Mabel causes major disruption to offshore oil drilling on Australia's northwest coast with two rigs losing their moorings in heavy seas, and shuts down mining on the Pilbara coast.

March 1985: Sandy triggers extensive flooding around the sparsely populated Gulf of Carpentaria and storm surges as high as 3.5 metres (12 feet). A pilot whale is spotted one kilometre (half-a-mile) inland.

February 1995: Bobby, a massive cyclone sweeping across the entire length of northwest Australia's coast from Darwin to Exmouth, kills eight people including seven on a pair of stricken fishing trawlers.

March 1997: Justin, after killing at least 30 people in Papua New Guinea, causes the deaths of five people offshore when their yacht is destroyed and two people on land with major damage between Cairns and Townsville in Queensland.

December 1998: Category five Thelma is the most intense cyclone to threaten Darwin since Tracy in 1974, but misses the city and flooding is confined to outlying rural areas.

March 2006: Category four Larry, half the size of Yasi, crosses the Queensland coast just south of Cairns. No lives are lost but damage to farmland reaches Aus$1.5 billion.

April 2006: Monica, another category five storm, was the strongest cyclone recorded in Australia before Yasi, with sustained wind speeds of 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour.

Monica crossed the northern Cape York Peninsula at a remote location, missing Aboriginal townships, but felled up to 70 percent of trees in the area.

February-March 2007: Category five George kills three people south of Port Hedland in northwest Australia.

by Staff Writers
Tully, Australia (AFP) Feb 3, 2011
As Cyclone Yasi's roaring winds and lashing rains closed in, Red Cross worker Noelene Byrne made a fortuitous last-minute decision to abandon her makeshift evacuation centre.

The next thing she knew the building in Tully was "one mangled heap", Byrne told ABC radio. "Had I left people there, there would have been loss of life," she said.

"The destruction there is just heartbreaking. It's just the front wall of the hall that's standing, the rest is just one big scrap heap.

"It's just like weapons have come through, bombs have come through and destroyed everything."

Cairns, a popular tourist hub on the northeast coast, escaped the worst of Yasi, a category five storm that lashed the area with gusts of up to 300 kilometres (185 miles) an hour. But other towns were not so lucky.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said emergency workers would have to "cut their way in" to get a real sense of the destruction in Tully, with preliminary estimates suggesting 90 percent of the main street was wrecked.

The town's hospital had its roof sheared away and one in three homes had suffered some sort of damage, Bligh said.

Dazed livestock roamed flooded streets and banana plantations lay flattened, while homes were without roofs, windows, and even walls.

Some houses were lifted from their foundations or split in two by the savage squalls, and huge trees lay across roads and power lines, torn whole from the ground with their knotted roots whipping in the wind.

"The flat from across the street is in our front yard and we can see other houses which have just been destroyed," said Tully resident Stephanie Grimaz, whose concrete home shook with the blasting winds' jet-engine roar.

"There are sheets of iron everywhere, the streets are just full of debris."

In Cardwell, aerial pictures showed house after house with its roof shorn off, a shattered church had its roof blown away, and the town was covered in mud left behind by the surging ocean waters Yasi whipped up.

At nearby Port Hinchinbrook, dozens of luxury yachts swept from their berths were piled on top of each other like discarded toys, while the marina lay empty.

Exhausted residents who cowered in basements and bathrooms through a terrifying night of shrieking winds emerged to inspect the damage, stunned at the scenes before them.

"There's so much damage it's just incredible," Tully cane farmer Vince Silvestro told AAP news agency.

"Our crops are completely destroyed... The countryside is completely stripped, the trees, even the hospital's damaged.

"When I woke up it looked like what it would have looked like in World World II or something if the city had been bombed."

But with many expecting significant loss of life from what was described as Australia's "storm of the century", most were counting their blessings as they swapped tales of lucky escapes and scary close shaves.

Mechanic Scott Torrens, 37, described how he was sitting at his kitchen table when the roof was ripped from the building, forcing him to hide his three children under mattresses during the long, frightening night.

"We were sitting at the kitchen table, we heard a ripping and off came the roof. Before we knew about it, it was gone. It happened that quick," Torrens told AFP.

One 71-year-old grandmother, whose surname was given as French, described her terror as the walls of her bathroom began to collapse and gusting winds blew a sheet of iron into the kitchen windows, sending shards of glass flying through the house.

"It sounded like a freight train coming through my house," she said. "I'm not someone who gets scared easily, but I was just petrified.

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Terrified Australians await cyclone fury
Innisfail, Australia (AFP) Feb 2, 2011
Anxious families hunkered silently on the floor of a makeshift shelter, pets and a few precious belongings around them, waiting for dreaded Cyclone Yasi to unleash its terrible fury. More than 10,000 people from around the small banana and sugarcane farming town of Innisfail were evacuated from their homes as the category five storm barreled directly towards them with awe-inspiring ferocity. ... read more

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