Cyclone Yasi tears across NE Australia

INNISFAIL, Australia — A powerful cyclone ripped across Australia's northeast coast early Thursday, blasting apart houses, laying waste to banana crops and leaving boats lying in the streets of wind- and wave-swept towns.

Emergency services fanned out as day broke to assess the damage across a disaster zone stretching more than 190 miles in Queensland state, using chain saws and other equipment to cut through trees and other debris blocking roads.

Premier Anna Bligh said no deaths or serious injuries had been reported but bad news could yet emerge from many places still cut off. Several thousand people were expected to be left homeless, she said.

Cyclone Yasi was moving inland and losing power today. But drenching rains were still falling, adding woes to a state where Australia's worst flooding in decades has killed 35 people since late November.

Hundreds of thousands of people spent the night huddled in evacuation centers or in their homes as the storm made landfall around midnight Wednesday packing winds gusting to 186 mph and causing tidal surges that swamped coastal areas.

"Nothing's been spared. The devastation is phenomenal, like nothing I've ever experienced," David Brook, the manager of a resort at Mission Beach, where the core of the storm hit the coast, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"Vegetation has been reduced to sticks," said Sgt. Dan Gallagher, a Mission Beach police officer.

The main highway leading south was cut by tidal floodwaters, and hundreds of cars were parked nearby as people who had evacuated Wednesday tried to get home to see what was left.

Barbara Kendall sat in her car next to her meowing cats Loly, Blossom, Spingle and Junior. Kendall and her husband, David, spent a sleepless night in a basement parking garage below a supermarket in Innisfail after being evacuated from their coastal home at Kurrimine Beach.

"It was really terrifying, but we were safe," she said. "It's a terrifying sound. It's really hard to describe. All I could hear was the screeching of the wind."