Cyclone makes its exit, leaving Australians a mess

CAIRNS, Australia — Rain and gusts from a weakening cyclone continued to bluster across northeastern Australia on Friday as those caught in the eye of the storm salvaged belongings from wrecked homes and officials confirmed the first death.

Police said a 23-year-old man asphyxiated due to fumes from a diesel-powered generator he was using in a closed room as he sheltered from Cyclone Yasi. Authorities were also searching for two people missing more than 24 hours after the storm struck.

The storm, which hit in the early hours of Thursday, was among the most powerful ever to strike Australia, terrifying thousands of residents and causing widespread damage — though it was not as bad as had been feared.

Power was gradually being restored to stricken towns, and airports in regional centers were reopening. Cleanup teams with chain saws and other equipment were clearing roads. Residents were piling up roofing sheets and debris torn free by the storm, and mopping up homes doused by torrential rains.

Many were still reliving a night of terror.

David Leger recalled the terrifying roar, then a violent bang like something had exploded.

"We gotta go!" Leger screamed to his father as the cyclone tore the roof off their home, sucking the air up and out of the room like a vacuum.

Leger and his parents scrambled down the staircase, but the house shook violently, sending 83-year-old Francis Leger tumbling down the stairs. The family finally made it to a small room on the ground floor, where they rode out the ferocious storm that slammed into the already flood-ravaged Queensland state.

Residents and officials were amazed that the death toll was not higher. The storm whipped the coast with up to 170 mph winds and sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities. Several small towns directly under Yasi's eye were devastated and hundreds of millions of dollars of banana and sugarcane crops were shredded.

Hundreds of houses were destroyed or seriously damaged, and the homes of thousands more people would be barely livable until the wreckage was cleared, officials said. Piles of drenched mattresses, sodden stuffed animals, shattered glass and twisted metal roofs lay strewn across lawns in the hardest-hit towns.