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Devastation at epicentre of Australian mega-cyclone

world Updated: Feb 04, 2011 09:14 IST
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Smashed yachts lay stacked like matchwood near a marina, while the ruined husk of a church, its walls sheered off as if from tank fire, stood vigil amidst the ruins of Cyclone Yasi.

As rescuers struggled on Friday to get to areas worst hit by Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi's 290 kilometre (180 miles) per hour winds, they described scenes of destruction that rival a war zone.

Although the Australian Defence Force has yet to make it to some of the worst hit areas because road closures are preventing them getting to "ground zero", officials and locals say the damage is humbling.

Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, on a 30-minute tour of the town of Tully that appears to have been among the worst hit by Yasi's pounding winds and torrential rain, said he was shocked by the level of devastation.

Doubled-over street lamps arched over the debris-strewn main street of the the small Queensland community south of Cairns that officials said had received 90% damage.

"It's a war zone," Swan said.

Rescuers who were hacking their way through debris to reach towns on the country's northeastern coast that have been effectively isolated by Yasi, were finding scenes reminiscent of battle zones.

Some of the most shocking images are from the marina at Port Hinchinbrook near Cardwell, where massive yachts were hurled through the air, landing blocks away -- some inside homes.

Aerial photos show Cardwell buried in mud from the storm surge, with huge trees blocking the Bruce Highway, which passes along the thin strip of land between the ocean and rainforest-covered mountains.

Dozens of luxury yachts, some 20 metres (yards) long, lay smashed against each other or the shoreline. Floating walkways were twisted among the other wreckage, and luxury homes shattered.

Fisherman Stephen Hughes, who described the scene as "catastrophic", is the owner of one of only four vessels that appear to have survived the storm surge in Port Hinchinbrook.

"There's got to be Aus$20 million to Aus$30 million worth of ships wrecked here," he said.

Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh appeared visibly shaken as she stood on a slab of concrete torn from the road by the winds.

"No briefing can prepare you for what it is like out there on the ground, this is complete devastation of some of our prettiest little towns," she said.

"This is a major recovery effort and like Cyclone Larry and Innisfail, it's going to take a long time."

Youth worker Sean Keenan sat huddled at work with his partner and daughter as the worst of the storm raged around them. He returned home on Friday, like so many, to find his house -- his first -- a ruined shell.

"We moved in about a week and a half ago -- first time buyers and we're now officially homeless," he told ABC Television.