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02 February 2011

Yasi already battering North Queensland - 2nd February 2011

The people of north Queensland are now on their own as they wait for the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Yasi, now due about midnight (AEST).

Emergency services have warned that no one should be moving about in any of the regions in Yasi's path, saying they were not prepared to risk the lives of their personnel during the height of the cyclone.

People should now be bunkered down in their own homes or with family or friends in safer zones, or among the thousands who have moved into one of the 20 evacuation centres across the region.

Winds of 290km/h are predicted for the Category 5 cyclone which is expected to hit the coast just south of Innisfail.

Innisfail Mayor Bill Shannon told AAP he had already seen the roof torn from a building near the council chambers where 500 people are sheltering.

Cassowary Coast councillor Ross Sorbello, a Tully resident, said trees had been torn down in nearby El Arish and Cardwell.

"We're just hoping and praying we can all get through the night," he said.

"The winds are probably getting up to 100 kilometres an hour which is worrying when we are this far out (from the eye)."

However, he said he was more concerned about the potential loss of life than damage to property.

"We can rebuild the houses, the important thing is staying alive, I don't want to see people die."

Cr Shannon said the council had used the experience of Cyclone Larry, which virtually destroyed the town in 2006, to prepare for Yasi's arrival.

"We're confident that we've done all we could, we've evacuated 8,000 people in the space of a few hours."

Innisfail correspondent Duncan Paterson said winds had picked up to a noisy 100km/h, lights were flickering, and the roof of the Canegrowers' building in the centre of Innisfail was beginning to lift.

Mr Paterson is one of 70 people sheltering in the Rising Sun building in the centre of Innisfail while about 500 more are sheltered in the town hall, showgrounds buildings, backpacker hostels, and a purpose built cyclone-rated hall at the local TAFE college.

"A chemist shop on the corner here had a huge glass panel. It's blown off and there's shattered glass underneath it.

Meanwhile Cairns City Council Mayor Val Schier was hoping for some good news with the damage to Cairns from Cyclone Yasi and the subsequent flooding not expected to be as bad as feared by authorities.

Ms Schier said that it was further south than originally thought, making authorities in Cairns reassess the impact slightly.

"It may be the case that there is less damage than earlier expected," Ms Schier told AAP.

"We'll still be getting very destructive winds, we're still very close to the centre."

Just south of Cairns, Mayor Percy Neal says the seaside Aboriginal community at Yarrabah is ready for Cyclone Yasi.

Mr Neal told AAP that 100 houses along the shoreline have been evacuated, with residents going to friends, family and two evacuation centres in the community of 3500 to 4000 people.

The mayor of Palm Island, Alf Lacey, rejected claims his people had been forgotten and said residents were bunkered down in homes and four evacuation centres waiting for Cyclone Yasi to strike.

Mr Lacey said while he agreed with former mayor Rob Blackley that the community needed a new, cyclone-rated town hall to use as a central evacuation centre, the mixed messages coming from the island were unnecessary.

"We've been planning for these events for many years," Mr Lacey, who is also chairman of the Local Disaster Management Group, said.

"We planned before Cyclone Anthony (which crossed into north Queensland on January 30) when it was predicted.

"Palm certainly is in safe hands and everything is in order," Mr Lacey told AAP.

The Queensland government has assured residents in regions impacted by Yasi that while they may be alone at the height of the cyclone, help will be available as soon as possible after.

Eight Queensland government community recovery teams of more than 130 people are on standby to move into the areas affected by Yasi.

The teams will be ready to move in as soon as police and Emergency Management Queensland give them the go ahead when the areas have been declared safe.

Community Services Minister Karen Struthers said the recovery teams would work alongside the Red Cross, Lifeline and St Vincent de Paul to support the communities affected by the disaster. (Credit: AAP)

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