CAIRNS, Australia — Thousands of Australians were urged today to gather their loved ones and flee a monster cyclone that strengthened overnight and threatened hours of winds and torrential rain for the northeast.
Gusts up to 174 mph are expected when Cyclone Yasi strikes late tonight. The storm front is more than 310 miles wide, and Yasi is so strong, it could reach far inland before it significantly loses power.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh urged people to get out quickly as roads and airports were within hours of closing. "Do not bother to pack bags. Just grab each other and get to a place of safety," she said.
Yasi was forecast to hit land about 10 tonight (7 a.m. EST).
Forecasters said up to 3 feet of rain could fall in some areas. Many parts of Queensland state are already saturated from months of flooding.