Brisbane (Australia), Feb.2 (ANI): Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has described Cyclone Yasi as the most devastating storm to ever hit the state.
The Herald Sun and the Courier Mail quoted Bligh, as warning residents of the state to take precautionary safety measures and evacuate wherever necessary ahead of the arrival of what she called was the first Category 5 cyclone to cross the Queensland coast since 1918.
The force of Yasi's winds are already being felt, with a number of large trees in Ayr, south of Townsville, being knocked over by gale-force gusts.
She said the window of opportunity for moving out of the storm's path "is closing very quickly".
"Just grab each other and move to a place of safety," she said.
Townsville residents are being urged to avoid calling ambulances on triple-0 for help evacuating.
Authorities said those lines need to be kept free for life-threatening calls.
"This is the most serious and destructive cyclone you can have and it's continuing to make its way towards the Queensland coast. It has also sped up overnight and is expected to make landfall around 10 p.m.," Bligh said.
Bligh said Yasi was now expected to make the most impact between Cairns and Cardwell and urged residents to relocate to family or friends or to a shelter.
She said the cyclone was predicted to hit about the same time as the high tide, residents had only until midday today to move to safety.
She also said three statewide SMS alerts were sent out to more than 200,000 people yesterday and today.
Some were complemented by local council alerts and in some cases door knocks have taken place yesterday and today to ask people to evacuate.
Bligh said a team was already being prepared to go into the regions to help with the aftermath of the cyclone.
She said the category five storm had the ability to bring down transmission towers, with electricity and phone lines expected to go down.
The Cairns and Townsville airports have been shut down since 10 a.m. today with major arterial roads expected to close by midday.
Bus services are all cancelled, except to shuttle people to evacuation centres.
Portable hospitals in Townsville and Darwin have been put on alert and 341 schools have been closed across the region today, Ms Bligh said.
The schools are to be closed for the rest of the week.
"You need to prepare yourself mentally for what will be a very scary experience for many people, for a frightening and catastrophic event," Bligh said. (ANI)