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Australian coastal towns wind- and wave-battered

People pack the food court Wednesday at a mall used as a evacuation shelter in Cairns, Australia.

Associated Press

People pack the food court Wednesday at a mall used as a evacuation shelter in Cairns, Australia.

TULLY, Australia — The most powerful storm in a century ripped across Australia's northeast coast early today, blasting apart houses, laying waste to banana 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, but cautioned that bad news could eventually emerge from communities still cut off after the overnight storm, which left several thousand people homeless.

Emergency services fanned out to assess the damage across a disaster zone stretching more than 190 miles in Queensland state, using chain saws to cut through trees and other debris blocking roads.

Cyclone Yasi was moving inland and losing power. But drenching rains were still falling, adding woes to a state where Australia's worst flooding in decades has killed 35 since late November.

Hundreds of thousands spent the night huddled in evacuation centers or bunkered in their homes as the cyclone hit, packing howling winds gusting to 186 mph and causing tidal surges that swamped coastal areas.

"Nothing's been spared. The devastation is phenomenal, like nothing I've ever experienced," David Brook, the manager of a resort at Mission Beach, where the core of the storm hit the coast around midnight, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"Vegetation has been reduced to sticks," said Sgt. Dan Gallagher, a Mission Beach police officer.

At Tully, about 12 miles inland along the storm's path, the main street was littered with twisted pieces of metal that were once house roofs and jagged shards of glass from shattered shopfront windows. Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said one in three houses in the town of 3,500 either were demolished by the storm or had the roof ripped off.

Tully and Mission Beach were among a handful of towns in a relatively narrow band that bore the brunt of Yasi's fury.

Amid the chaos, a bit of happy news: A girl was born at a Cairns evacuation center just before dawn with the help of a British midwife on holiday, councilor Linda Cooper said. The second child for Akiko Pruss, a Japanese woman who lives in Cairns with her husband, will not be named for Cyclone Yasi. "Akiko doesn't like that name at all," Cooper said.

Typical year brings six storms ashore

Australia's huge, sparsely populated tropical north is battered annually by about six cyclones — called typhoons throughout much of Asia and hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere. Building codes have been strengthened since Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 in one of Australia's worst natural disasters.

Australian coastal towns wind- and wave-battered 02/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 11:57pm]
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