Tens of thousands of Australians have stockpiled food and are waiting in sturdy shelters as a monster cyclone approached the north east coast with furious winds, rain and surging seas on a scale unseen in generations.
Gusts up to 275kmh are expected when Cyclone Yasi strikes the coast after whipping across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The storm front is more than 450km wide and Yasi is so strong, it could reach far inland before it significantly loses power.
Queensland premier Anna Bligh said the last cyclone of such strength to cross Queensland was in 1918.
“It’s such a big storm - it’s a monster, killer storm,” she said. “This impact is likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations.”
Ms Bligh said coastal residents should have left already as their region would undoubtedly flood during an expected high sea surge. People further inland were told to “bunker down” in their homes and get ready for gale-force winds. More than 10,000 people were already in evacuation centres, and roads were closing as strong winds and heavy rain made travel unsafe.
Landfall was expected just south of Cairns - a city of about 164,000 people about 875km north of Sydney and a gateway for visitors to the Great Barrier Reef - between the towns of Innisfail and Cardwell.
The rural community of Innisfail was devastated by Cyclone Larry in 2006 with thousands of homes and banana and sugar cane plantations destroyed. No-one was killed.
Earlier Ms Bligh had told coastal residents their window of opportunity to flee was closing.