Terror as Aussie families suffer cyclone's powerful force
The most powerful storm in a century ripped across Australia's north-east coast early today, blasting apart houses, laying waste to crops and leaving boats lying in the streets of wind and wave-swept towns.
Authorities said they were surprised to learn at daybreak that no one had been reported killed by Cyclone Yasi.
But they cautioned that bad news could eventually emerge from communities still cut off after the overnight storm, which left several thousand people homeless.
"It was really terrifying, but we were safe," said Barbara Kendall.
Emergency services were assessing damage across a disaster zone stretching more than 300km in Queensland state.
Hundreds of thousands of people had spent the night huddled in evacuation centres or bunkered in their homes as the cyclone hit, packing howling winds gusting to 300kph and causing tidal surges that swamped coastal areas.
"Nothing's been spared. The devastation is phenomenal, like nothing I've ever experienced," said David Brook, the manager of a resort at Mission Beach, where the core of the storm hit the coast around midnight.
"Vegetation has been reduced to sticks," said Sargeant Dan Gallagher, a Mission Beach police officer.
Electricity supplies were cut to more than 180,000 houses in the region -- a major fruit and sugarcane-growing area and tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
Police warned people to stay inside their homes until the danger was past.
As the day wore on, authorities allowed more than 10,000 people to leave the 20 evacuation centres.
"I'm very relieved this morning, but I do stress these are very early reports," asid Queensland state premier Anna Bligh. "It's a long way to go before I say we've dodged any bullets."