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Yasi weakens, but could bring more flooding to Queensland

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Storm of the century?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tropical Cyclone Yasi is now a Category 1 storm
  • Queensland emergency minister: More than 170,000 homes are without power
  • Australian officials say it could take weeks for power to be restored in some areas
  • The storm had strengthened to the highest level on Australia's cyclone classification system

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(CNN) -- Once-powerful Tropical Storm Yasi diminished to a Category 1 storm Thursday, but was still expected to bring heavy rain and blustery winds to Australia's interior, meteorologists said.

The rains could produce localized flooding in the already water-logged region for days to come. Another 4 to 8 inches (100mm to 200mm) are forecast from Townsville to northern Mackay along the coast.

The massive cyclone was a Category 5 storm when it slammed into the Queensland coast just after midnight Thursday, leaving more than 170,000 homes without power, according to the emergency services minister. Some areas could be without power for weeks.

Neil Roberts told CNN that said that no serious injuries have been reported since Tropical Cyclone Yasi roared ashore, but emergency crews are still working their way across the affected region.

Carly Wallace, a resident of Tolga, approximately 28 miles (46 kilometers) southwest of the coastal city of Cairns, weathered the storm at home with her sister and family.

"From 10.30 p.m., it started to pick up and the winds started to get really strong. There was a lot of stuff going across our roof. It was pretty scary," she said.

Electricity to the house and phone lines were lost around 11 p.m.

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We have known about it for a week. That is more than enough time to prepare for it
--Carl Butcher, Cairns resident,

"It was hard to get any rest. We tried to sleep, but would wake up from the strong winds howling and the windows rattling," Wallace said.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh described conditions for local TV networks, and said that many coastal cities are enduring power outages.

In Cairns, only 34% of homes had electricity. Townsville, south of Cairns, only has power in about 15% of homes. Farther down the Queensland coast, electricity is out in half of Mackay and Proserpine, and the entire town of Ingham was without power.

Bligh said the tens of thousands of power outages were caused by downed lines and a transmission break. Electrical supply lines running into coastal communities have been cut south of the town of Innisfail.

"It is not clear yet why it has been cut and we won't know until we are able to get into the air and check all along that system," Bligh said. "I should say that requires checking 400 kilometers (248 miles) of line and 500 transmission towers."

It could take weeks to repair the problems, Bligh said, an assessment confirmed by Queensland's emergency services minister.

Yasi is moving toward the west-southwest. Wind speeds could reach up to 77 miles per hour (125 kilometers per hour), according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Joe Vella, a resident of Cairns, said that wind gusts when Yasi came ashore sounded like a sledgehammer hitting his house -- and that it went on for four hours. "Our hearts were in our throats thinking what was going to happen," he said.

RELATED TOPICS
  • Australia
  • Queensland
  • Floods

Thousands of people left their homes ahead of the storm, which forecasters warned was one of the worst the country has ever seen.

Earlier, Bligh warned residents they may have to cope alone for several days.

"I can't sugarcoat this for people: It's going to be a tough 24 hours, for some it's going to be a tough couple of days," she said at a news conference. "They need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, and that might mean they have to be self-sufficient for a couple of days.

Carl Butcher, another Cairns resident, said before the storm, "I have all my rations ready to go, batteries, candles. The authorities have been very proactive in informing us about this system. We have known about it for a week. That is more than enough time to prepare for it."

CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado said heavy rain in Queensland could continue until Friday.

iReport: Early images of the cyclone

The cyclone threatens more devastation for Queensland, where 20 people died and thousands of homes were wrecked in severe flooding in January, which affected 3.1 million people.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a one-off tax aimed at helping to for pay the estimated AUS $5.6 billion (US $5.58 billion) in damage caused by that flood.

CNN's Pauline Chiou, Hilary Whiteman and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.

 
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