The impact of cyclone Yasi, currently brooding off the far north Queensland coast, is “likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations,” declared the Bureau of Meteorology this morning.

Yasi is currently rated a category five storm, the most severe classification available for cyclones. Winds are expected to reach 302km/h in some areas, with winds of 295km/h expected near its core when it hits the coast between Cairns and Innisfail. To compare, winds in Hurricane Katrina — another category five — were 280km/h.

It’ll be a terrifying day for locals, warns Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. “Whether it’s cyclonic devastating winds, storm surge, or torrential rain further west as a result of this, we are facing an extreme event that will not be over in 24 hours, but will possibly take several days before the full flooding effect is felt across the region as well, potentially right through to Mount Isa.”

“We are facing a storm of catastrophic proportions in a highly populated area. You’ve heard all of the statistics and what it all adds up to is a very, very frightening time for people and their families,” said Bligh, who seems to be back holding regular press conference updates just like she was during the floods.

Bligh told residents this morning that they had one hour to flee before the winds became too strong, which she expected would be by midday today. At 10pm tonight the brunt of the cyclone is expected to hit the coast. The eye of the storm — currently 35km wide — will take an hour alone to pass.

A whopping 30,000 people have been told to evacuate from Cairns. “Just grab each other and move to a place of safety,” warned Bligh. Evacuated patients and residents from Cairns hospitals began arriving in Brisbane this morning. Another 216 people from nursing homes have been evacuated. The Stockland Shopping Centre — currently being used as an evacuation centre — is full and two new evacuation centres will open in Cairns, reports the Cairns Post. Thousands of properties are at risk, 341 schools have closed this week and the Cairns and Townsville airports will close this morning.

To get an idea of what Townsville, Cairns, Innisfail and surrounding regions are preparing for, track Yasi on this Bureau of Meteorology cyclone tracking map:

yasimap

Pay close attention to the time stamps, which show it continuing to be a category five at 4pm today just off the coast from Innisfail. It’s expected to stay a category five storm until tomorrow.

This map — click through for the moving image — shows the size and power of Yasi compared to smaller storms around the rest of Australia. (Note this hasn’t been updated since yesterday, and the cyclone has got significantly worse since then.)

bomyasi

This comparison of cyclone Yasi with hurricane Katrina, cyclone Tracy and cyclone Larry shows just how devastating this storm could be.

cyclonecompare

For some more compare and contrast with cyclone Tracy, take a look at this image, put together by Robert Watson on Twitter:

yasitracy

“We look to what happened with cyclone Tracy where people ended up under mattresses in bathrooms and that may be the situation here,” Cairns Mayor Val Schier told ABC News.

Already the facts show this is a significant natural disaster for Queensland. An infographic in The Australian shows exactly how cyclones destroy homes, with the wind pressure blowing upwards and outwards, collapsing walls and knocking roofs off.

housesoz

Anna Bligh warned of a two-metre storm surge when the hurricane hits. An “extremely dangerous” sea level rise, causing flooding, extremely damaging waves and strong currents has authorities concerned. Local residents are already reporting isolated flooding.

To get an idea of what this sea level rises mean, Melissa Doyle on Sunrise this morning showed how high the waters are expected to reach.

yasisunrise

Queensland Police — the media unit was outstanding in getting out information in the recent Queensland floods — is again giving constant updates on its Twitter and Facebook pages.

“#TCYasi’s eye is 35km wide at Willis Isl. It will take an hour to pass over” it tweeted. According to reports, the Willis Island observation station may have been destroyed as no contact has been made since the cyclone hit.

“Latest advice is that it will be unsafe to be outside after midday today from Douglas to Townsville,” it announced on Facebook.

A look at the newspaper front pages illustrates the fears held over this storm…

townsvilleyasi

goldnt

But at least the folk at the Hog’s Breath cafe in Cairns have kept their sense of humour:

yasihogsbreath

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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