After the Floods, the Category 5 Cyclone: Australians Panic As They Are Turned Away From Shelters

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Emergency workers wheel a patient from a local hospital to an evacuation flight in Cairns on Feb. 1, 2011 (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

While winds have started to whip the coast, Australia is still bracing for the full fury of Cyclone Yasi, a massive category 5 storm whose center is expected to hit northern Queensland around midnight local time on Wednesday.

Throughout the day, residents of the eastern Australian state were in a panic as the Queensland premier told people to stay at home and brace for the biggest storm since World War I. At present, winds are expected to be as high as 186 mph, and wave surges on the coast that could reach over 22 feet. “This impact is likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was quoted as saying in the Australian.

(See pictures of the Queensland floods.)

In towns where Yasi is expected to land, hospitals were evacuated and police had to turn away frightened residents from packed shelters. Outside one evacuation center in Cairns, scores of residents waited hoping authorities would relent and let them inside. During the day, tens of thousands of people left their homes. All seven evacuation centers in the region were full more than 12 hours before the storm was due to arrive.

The last comparable storm to hit Queensland in 1918 killed nearly 90 people. Yasi follows close on the heels of weeks of deadly floods that washed over the southern part of the state last month, killing dozens of people and with recovery costs estimated to reach as much as $20 billion. (via Reuters)