AS CYCLONE Yasi approached Queensland’s Far North Coast last night, former Coffs Harbour helicopter pilot Phil Treasure was one of the few who remained on Hamilton Island directly in the path of the monster storm.

Blockading the windows of his resort unit with furniture, he sat in his ‘bunker’ as the wind and rain intensified throughout the evening.

“We are hearing the winds could end up being up to 300km/h. If that happens they’ll be stronger than those of Hurricane Katrina. I sure hope I don’t regret my decision to ride it out,” he said yesterday.

“It really is an eerie feeling sitting here in wait for it to hit. Hamilton Island is a ghost town, all the holidaymakers have left and only staff have stayed.”

Upgraded to a category five system yesterday, the left-hand edge of Cyclone Yasi was on a collision course with the Whitsunday Islands.

Completely opposite to hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere, the most powerful winds and swell surges will be experienced on the southern side of this tropical cyclone.

“Yeah, we are expecting to be right in the thick of things.

“We’ve been told once Yasi hits it could take up to 18 hours for it to pass.

“We are bracing ourselves for the worst, but I’ve got to say there’s also an amount of excitement waiting to see what happens when Yasi hits.

“The units we are staying in are said to be cyclone proof but they’ve never been hit by a category five, so it’s a big unknown at this stage,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology also warned coastal residents, particularly between Port Douglas and Townsville, of an ‘extremely dangerous’ storm tide as the cyclone approached and crossed the coast.

The surge was likely to cause flooding some way inland weather forecasters predicted.

Winds with gusts of up to 90km/h were felt on coastal islands yesterday morning – 12 hours before the expected arrival of the worst.

Gusts over 125km/h were recorded between Cooktown and Ingham in the afternoon, and gusts reaching above 280km/h between Port Douglas and Cardwell were expected last night.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from low-lying areas.

The cyclone’s full fury was expected to hit the region around Cairns sometime after 10pm yesterday.

In preparation, the Australian Defence Force and emergency services are on stand-by for what could be the country’s most destructive weather event and the timing couldn’t be worse, just weeks after the devastating Queensland floods.

If size is anything to go, radar images of Yasi have dwarfed Queensland’s worst cyclone which hit five years ago.

The width of Yasi late yesterday was almost twice the size of Cyclone Larry before it devastated Innisfail in 2006 and left a $1.5-billion damage bill behind.

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