Floods, Yasi stamp their mark on 2011

The summer of 2011 was already going to go down in Queensland's history for all the wrong reasons.

Extensive flooding had already seen 75 per cent of the state declared a disaster zone with floodwaters claiming the lives of 33 from the time the rains began in late November.

The crescendo was an awesome final display of strength when the Brisbane River claimed the state's capital.

But just three weeks after that "one-in-100-year" event, mother nature had another hammer blow for Queensland.

Just over 24 hours ago, the worst cyclone in the state's living history crossed the coast near Mission Beach, about 50km south of Innisfail, flinging roofs off houses, stripping trees, flattening crops and snapping power poles in two.

Wind gusts were estimated to be as fast as 290km/h but the full force of Cyclone Yasi may never be known. There are no gauges where the monster storm made landfall.

But those in its path were in no doubt that it was the most furious storm imaginable.

Those who bore the brunt of it in Mission Beach, Tully, Cardwell, Silkwood and surrounding towns spent a terrifying night as roaring winds ripped their communities apart.

Those who lived through baby brother Larry - the category four cyclone that savaged Innisfail in 2006 - said Yasi was something else.

"It sounded like a freight train coming through my house," retired cane farmer Dawn French, 71, told AAP.

Her Tully home was struck by a sheet of iron blown off her tractor shed.

"I'm not someone who gets scared easily but I was just petrified," she told AAP.

"The bathroom walls started to cave in and the tiles on the floor lifted up."

Vince Silvestro, a Tully cane farmer, described the morning after the "terrifying" storm.

"When I woke up it looked like what it would have looked like in World World II or something if the city had been bombed."

At Mission Beach, the scene was the same.

"All the trees around are stripped bare, what ones are still standing," resident Ken Byce said.

"There's heaps of houses gone. I just walked past a house - well, there's nothing left of it.

"Every house is damaged."

The last time a cyclone of a similar magnitude hit Queensland was in 1918 when two cyclones decimated Mackay and Innisfail.

The first struck Mackay in January and brought severe wind and a massive storm surge that saw waves as high as 2.7 metres breaking in the centre of town.

Buildings disintegrated, gas and water supplies failed, roofs flew away and 30 died, mainly in Mackay and the flood-hit town of Rockhampton.

Then in March, an even stronger cyclone brought ferocious winds, a phenomenal storm surge and left just 12 houses in Innisfail standing - a town of 3,500 residents.

Some 37 people died there and an estimated 40 to 60 more, mostly Aborigines, died in outlying areas.

Queenslanders breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday morning with news that no fatalities or serious injury had been reported after authorities seemed poised for bad news all Wednesday.

Of course, the damage bill is another story.

Hundreds of homes and boats have structural damage.

Shops and offices have been smashed apart and roads were washed away in the storm surge.

Major telecommunications and electricity infrastructure is down and could take weeks to restore.

Not even the Bureau of Meteorology's weather monitoring equipment on Willis Island was spared.

The federal government has already announced a flood levy and the state government has delayed Brisbane's much-needed cross-river rail project to pay for the estimated $5 billion flood bill.

Disaster payments will be made to Yasi victims, just as they are being paid to flood victims.

And the Premier's Disaster Relief Fund, of which its $192,470,566 kitty already can't fund all the damage to people's uninsured, flooded homes, will now be opened up to Yasi victims.

A multi-billion cyclone bill is the last thing the state needs.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has revealed the government will need to find more budget cuts to fund Yasi's bill.

"It will require cutbacks in other areas; there is no point sugar coating that," she said.

"We will rebuild from this cyclone and we will arrange the federal budget in order to do that."

Premier Anna Bligh says authorities will sit down and consider what the cyclone will mean for things like disaster funds in the coming weeks.

She'll hold a special cabinet meeting at the north Queensland tourist town of Airlie Beach on Monday to discuss the fallout.

"Without a doubt it's an extreme circumstance in our country's history for any place to have a rolling set of disasters as we've had," she said on Thursday.

"The worst floods in our history across three quarters of the state, followed by the worst cyclone, over a huge area, in almost a century."

But with Cyclone Yasi just the third cyclone to hit Queensland this summer, out of a predicted six, more heartache may be still to come.

"We remain on alert for what we know is a continuing storm and wet season," the premier said.


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