* Queensland premier says no deaths reported so far
* She says emergency workers still assessing damage
* Storm downgraded as it moves inland
* Sugar cane fields damaged, some coal mines resume
(Adds quotes, impact on crops)
By Rob Taylor
INNISFAIL, Australia, Feb 3 One of the most
powerful cyclones on record tore off roofs, toppled power lines
and terrified tens of thousands of people hunkered down in their
homes in northeastern Australia on Thursday but there were no
reports of deaths.
Many people were astounded that Cyclone Yasi - which packed
winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) an hour at its core -- did
much less damage than feared.
"It's amazing no-one was killed. The wind was howling like a
banshee," said farmer Nathan Fisher, speaking out the window of
his four-wheel-drive vehicle as he returned to his property from
a shelter in the town of Innisfail.
The cyclone came ashore around midnight along hundreds of
kilometres of coast in Queensland state and then drove inland,
bringing heavy rains to mining areas struggling to recover from
recent devastating floods.
While the cyclone was the size of Italy it appeared to miss
major towns in Queensland, a sparsely populated state with about
2 people for every square km.
The biggest impact could be on the economy. Sugarcane crops
had been damaged although the extent of the destruction was
still being assessed, said Steve Greenwood, chief executive of
Queensland's Canegrowers organisation.
The districts affected produce 30 percent of the cane grown
in Australia, the world's third largest raw sugar exporter.
Some coal mines remained shut, although others were starting
to resume operations. Queensland accounts for 90 percent of
Australia's steelmaking coal exports.
The eye of the cyclone crossed the coast close to the
tourist town of Mission Beach.
"It sounds like a roaring train going over the top of the
house. There are trees cracking outside," Hayley Leonard told
Seven Network television from a concrete bunker beneath her home
in the town of Innisfail.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said there had been no reports
"What I'm very relieved about is that we have yet to hear
any reports from any police or any other source of any serious
injury or fatality," Bligh told Sky TV.
She said evacuation centres, where more than 10,000 people
had sheltered across the state, had not reported structural
One resident, Maria Cook, returned to check on her home on
the outskirts of Innisfail after spending the night in an
"I'm going to have to use a chainsaw to cut past trees and
to get back inside my house, but that's OK," she said.
Yasi was rated a maximum-strength category five storm and
drew comparisons with Hurricane Katrina, which wrecked New
Orleans in 2005.
It has been downgraded to a category two storm as it moves
inland. But its core remained very destructive, the Bureau of
Almost everyone in the storm zone was bunkered down at home
or in cyclone shelters. Tens of thousands of people were
evacuated in the hours before the storm struck.
STORM SURGE NOT AS HIGH AS FEARED
A Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said a storm surge of two
metres (six feet) above the normal level of the tide had
inundated one stretch of coast but reporters said the surges
were not as severe as feared.
More than 400,000 people live in the cyclone's path. The
entire stretch is popular with tourists, includes the Great
Barrier Reef, and is home to major coal and sugar ports.
The storm could inflate world sugar, copper and coal prices,
after forcing a copper refinery to close and paralysing sugar
and coal exports. It even prompted a major mining community at
Mt Isa, almost 1,000 km (620 miles) inland, to go on alert.
Global miners BHP Billiton and Peabody Energy
had shut several coal mines, an official for the union
representing Queensland coal miners told Reuters.
Bligh said the cyclone, predicted to be the strongest ever
to hit Australia, could batter the state for up to three days as
it moved inland.
Queensland has had a cruel summer, with floods sweeping
across it and other eastern states in recent months, killing 35
The state is also home to most of Australia's sugar industry
and losses for the industry from Yasi could exceed A$500
million, including crop losses and damage to farming
infrastructure, industry group Queensland Canegrowers said.
$1=.9888 Australian dollar)
(Additional reporting by Amy Pyett and Bruce Hextall in SYDNEY)
(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Dean Yates)