CAIRNS - THE most powerful cyclone to strike north-eastern Australia in nearly a century howled inland early on Thursday, tearing off roofs, flattening trees and cutting electricity to more than 170,000 people.
As the sun rose after a night of furious winds and torrential rain, authorities advised residents to stay indoors until safety could be assessed in the still-dangerous conditions. Police said utility and transportation teams were surveying the extent of damage.
'They're doing that as rapidly as they can ... so they can give us the all clear to let people onto the roads and back to their homes,' Cairns police superintendent Brian Connors said.
The eye of Cyclone Yasi roared ashore just after midnight at the small resort town of Mission Beach in Queensland state, battering the coast known to tourists as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef with heavy rain and howling winds gusting to 186 mph (300 kph). 'Vegetation has been reduced to sticks,' said Sgt. Dan Gallagher, Mission Beach officer in charge.
Strong winds and torrential rain still battered towns in the early morning, making it too dangerous to venture far outside homes and evacuation centres and determine the extent of property damage. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported.
Cyclone Yasi has been downgraded as it moves across Queensland state but remains a dangerous storm front, the Bureau of Meteorology said. -- AP