To El Arish, the worst in memory - YASI


STEVE Duggan lost his home when Yasi reached the township of El Arish (population: 340) this week.
``When the roof of this house started to lift, I hid in the stairwell, and when it all caved in, I ran to the car shed and hid in the car until it passed in the morning,'' Duggan says. ``It was terrifying. This house lost its roof to Cyclone Larry five years ago, but that was over in an hour. Yasi took 10 hours to pass.''
Nearby is a disused transport facility that was used by a local family to store furniture and motor vehicles. The roof was gone and the walls had collapsed on several cars stored inside.
El Arish began in 1921 as a soldiers' settlement township. World War I veterans were given small blocks of land on which to grow food for sustenance and cash crops, in particular sugar cane. For the next 50 years it was home to resident and itinerant gangs of cane-cutters, mostly Italian Australians.
Today it is home to retirees and labourers who work on banana plantations in the district.
Les Pavan, a retired mechanic, lived through cyclones Agnes in 1966, Winifred in 1986 and now Yasi. ``I was away for Larry, but my neighbours told me today that Yasi was much worse, because Larry was over in an hour or 90 minutes, but Yasi took 10 or 12 hours,'' he says. ``It was a frightening time for everybody.''
After hitting the north Queensland coast on Wednesday night, Yasi, a category 5 cyclone -- compared with 2006's category 4 Cyclone Larry -- blew hundreds of kilometres inland.
The cyclone followed some of the worst flooding seen in the state, which devastated central and southern Queensland in December and January.
Power and telecommunications links were lost and swaths of crops destroyed.
Yasi later faded to a category 1 as it moved deep inland. AAP reports the last time a cyclone of a similar magnitude hit Queensland was in 1918, when two cyclones damaged Mackay and Innisfail.
The first struck Mackay in January and brought severe wind and a storm surge with waves as high as 2.7m breaking in the centre of town. Buildings disintegrated, roofs flew away and 30 died, mainly in Mackay.
Then in March, an even stronger cyclone left just 12 houses in Innisfail standing -- a town of 3500 residents. Some 37 people died there and an estimated 40 to 60 others died in outlying areas.