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Queensland prepares for Cyclone Yasi. -

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Thousands of people have fled Cairns and surrounding areas as the countdown to Cyclone Yasi
continues.

Transcript

TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: It's been called the most catastrophic storm in generations and tonight
Queensland is seeing the first signs of what Cyclone Yasi has in store for the flood-ravaged state.

Wild winds are already lashing several towns in the state's north and a storm surge of up to two
metres is forecast for the coast.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to higher ground or taken refuge in shelters and evacuation
centres.

Rapid assessment teams and the military are on standby ready to mount a rescue and recovery effort
once the massive storm has passed.

The ABC's John Taylor is in Cairns and filed this report.

JOHN TAYLOR, REPORTER: For almost a quarter of a century, this Queenslander in Cairns has been home
to David and Colene Clifton.

COLENE CLIFTON: I've packed up heaps and heaps of stuff. And I don't think I'll see the light of
day ever again.

JOHN TAYLOR: But now everything's been moved in preparation for Cyclone Yasi.

Their home is no longer a sanctuary.

COLENE CLIFTON: A bit anxious. I think this is a very frightening cyclone. We've been through a
couple, but I think this one is really the worst that we've ever experienced.

DAVID CLIFTON: Got the camper trailer and the car packed. We'll be out of here in 20 minutes, but I
reckon the water will be up to about here (gesturing to neck level) through here. You don't want to
leave the home, but you've got to be rational, you've got to leave.

JOHN TAYLOR: This is the esplanade of Cairns, one of the prettiest parts of the city overlooking
the water. It's almost a cliché, but right now this is the calm before the storm. It's hard to
imagine what's going to come, but locals woke up this morning to news that they're now facing a
Category 5 cyclone. This cyclone is of a size and intensity and of an ferocity that hasn't been
seen here in Queensland in living memory.

The people who live in North Queensland are anxious and fearful.

Cairns mayor Val Schier isn't downplaying what could happen to her community.

VAL SCHIER, MAYOR, CAIRNS: Cairns has never experienced a cyclone of the intensity of the one
that's about to hit us. We would expect, given the battering Cairns is going to have, that there
may be loss of life. We hope that that's not the case. We know there's gonna be extensive damage to
buildings and powerlines will be down. We hope there's no loss of life, but we don't know.

JOHN TAYLOR: Nearly every shop and store is closed in Cairns. This morning, cousins Michael and
Anglo Vasta were racing against time to protect their restaurant.

Have you left it a bit late?

MICHAEL VASTA: Not really. I think we still got a bit of time. We're just getting our home ready
and all that first, getting the family organised and then we'll just do our best here.

JOHN TAYLOR: How ya feeling?

MICHAEL VASTA: Yeah, it's not too bad. You can just do what you can do and that's really about it.

JOHN TAYLOR: But it's not clear if really anything can be done to protect their business.

SAM VASTA: It's frightening, really. It's, yeah, unbelievable. It's a bit hard to fathom, really.
Let's hope it's not as bad as they say it is.

JOHN TAYLOR: But if you look at it now, you wouldn't realise?

SAM VASTA: The sea is absolutely flat calm. But there's a lot of bad weather coming.

JOHN TAYLOR: As you can see, it hasn't started raining yet, but there's a real sense of foreboding
about what's to come in Cairns. I mean, this is normally a busy street, but it's quite eerie,
really, just how quiet this street is and how lots of streets around here are. Local after local
that we've spoken to have said they've been through cyclones before, but Cyclone Yasi has made them
really anxious about what's to come tonight.

So you've taken a lot of precautions then?

GREG LANHAM: I've stacked everything into here, yeah. Well this one's gonna be bigger they reckon
than Larry, so, better to be safe than sorry.

JOHN TAYLOR: 49-year-old Greg Lanham is a disability pensioner. Most of his neighbours have gone
and he's alone. The stress is starting to show.

GREG LANHAM: Until this morning I was pretty good, but just this morning I'm gettin' a bit shaky. I
went through Cyclone Larry and that was a very hair-raising experience. Had a roof come off a house
that I was staying in there. Yeah.

JOHN TAYLOR: He doesn't know where to go, but he's preparing to move.

GREG LANHAM: What can I do? I've got my bag packed here. That's just basically clothes and a bit of
food.

JOHN TAYLOR: Is that all you're going to leave with?

GREG LANHAM: That's all. Just this.

JOHN TAYLOR: Others, though, have defied orders to evacuate low-lying areas. Up the road, Micah
Marigliano has bunkered down and isn't worried.

MICAH MARIGLIANO: Not at all. It's not the alcohol either.

JOHN TAYLOR: Can I ask why you're not worried?

MICAH MARIGLIANO: I've been through very many storms, so ... . Back in the States, a couple of the
very big ones back there. And as long as you don't do anything stupid like try and walk down the
street or something or, you know ... I think we'll be OK.

VAL SCHIER: I'm quite frightened about what's to come. When I left my house this morning I just had
that thought, "What am I gonna come back to?" I don't really know whether there'll be windows
broken or flood inundation. I actually live on the beachfront and I think most people are like
that. They are very uncertain at the moment about how they're gonna be able to withstand this and
whether their house is going to be strong enough.

JOHN TAYLOR: You can see now how seriously the situation is getting. The wind has really picked up.
The streets are pretty empty. Locals here are taking the advice of authorities and moving out.
About 30,000 residents of Cairns have been told that they should evacuate their homes. Now
authorities cannot force them to leave, but they've asked them to go, especially over large tracts
of low-lying parts of Cairns, including the CBD and surrounding suburbs.

Across North Queensland, authorities have set up evacuation centres. In Cairns, they're now all
full. This suburban shopping centre has been transformed.

WENDY ROBINS: Can't believe the absolute thousands of people. It's absolutely mind-boggling, isn't
it? Just unbelievable. I think just the reality is just setting in, you know, what's happening.

JOHN TAYLOR: Tropical Cyclone Yasi is now just hours away. There's little more people can do, but
wait and hope their preparations are enough.

TRACY BOWDEN: That report from John Taylor.