A welcome sign lies amongst wreckage in Cardwell, Australia. (Feb....

A welcome sign lies amongst wreckage in Cardwell, Australia. (Feb. 4, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

CARDWELL, Australia (AP) — The storm was roaring outside Diane Robson’s waterfront apartment when she edged onto the balcony to check on her boat in the water below. She swept the beam of her flashlight across the churning black harbor until she caught a flash of white: her yacht, the “Laza Beam” — in her neighbor’s yard.

The monstrous cyclone that ripped across Australia’s northeast flung boats from the sea like toys, leaving them in jumbled piles. Robson stared down at her battered yacht from the balcony on Friday; she couldn’t bring herself to look any closer.

“I don’t ever want to get back on the boat again,” she said. “I’m too scared.”

Residents across Queensland state trickled out of their sodden homes Friday to confront the wreckage left a day earlier by Cyclone Yasi, a fierce storm that flattened dozens of houses and ripped roofs and walls from hundreds more. The storm cut power to thousands of homes and shredded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of banana and sugar cane crops.

Australia marshaled 4,000 troops and sent a supply ship with tons of food to the hardest-hit communities Friday, as authorities confirmed the first death from the cyclone. Police said a 23-year-old man died from asphyxiation after being overwhelmed by fumes from a diesel-powered generator he was using in a closed room during the storm. Two other people were reported missing.

Residents and officials were amazed the death toll was not higher. The storm thrashed the coast with up to 170 mph (280 kph) winds and sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, as tens of thousands of people huddled in evacuation centers.

Electricity and phone service were gradually being restored Friday, and roads cleared of downed trees, power lines and twisted metal roofs torn from homes. But the efforts were hampered by drenching rain in many parts of the disaster zone, prompting the weather bureau to warn of potentially dangerous flash flooding.

Because Australia’s far northeast is sparsely populated, Yasi, despite its size, didn’t hit any major cities as it charged across the continent. But the isolation was making cleanup more difficult, as authorities struggled to reach out-of-the-way towns.

In Cardwell, rain poured through gaping holes in the roofs of houses already inundated. The waterfront library was in shambles: The roof had collapsed, the books were drenched and the front door lay in the center of the building.

Local police moved through the cluttered streets trying to clear wreckage. Richard Doran, 62, beckoned a backhoe driver over to the front of his shop, where inside, three inches of mud covered the floor. A tidal surge had dumped a tangle of downed trees and nearly a foot of sand at his front door.

He still hadn’t seen any state emergency service workers and was hoping help would arrive soon.

“The longer it sits like this, the worse it is,” he said.

The main road into town was torn into chunks in places, and piles of sand washed ashore by tidal surges blocked it elsewhere, making driving conditions hazardous.

Theodore Chrisohos, 83, stood Friday on the top floor of his shattered home. The roof was gone and some of the walls had collapsed, leaving part of the top floor an exposed platform of twisted debris.

“The yard is full of beach,” he said. “I saw cyclones, but nothing like this one. It’s Australia’s worst.”

Lisa Smith survived another fierce cyclone that tore through Cardwell in 2006, and felt officials took too long to arrive after that storm. She wondered if this time would be different.

“A lot of us feel like we’re on our own again,” she said. “I just hope we don’t get forgotten.”

Officials vowed to work hard to reach isolated towns and urged residents to be patient.

“It’s a lovely seaside village and right now it looks like a war zone,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said during a visit to Cardwell on Friday. “Parts of this town are not recognizable right now, but we can fix it.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said troops would help with the cleanup operation, and that more than 600 police and emergency services workers were fanning out with chain saws and heavy machinery.

A ship carrying 3,000 tons (2,750 metric tons) of food and other aid was to arrive Friday in the regional city of Townsville, from where it would be trucked to smaller, storm-ravaged towns.

The cyclone has added misery to a state battered for weeks by the nation’s worst flooding in decades. The floods have killed 35 people, swamped dozens of towns and caused an estimated $5.6 billion dollars damage.

Gillard said the cyclone damage would be massive but that it was too early to quantify it.

Cecily Cropper picked her way through downed palm trees in the village center of Mission Beach, a coastal town very close to where Yasi made landfall Thursday. Nearby, the town’s iconic, tall green clock lay on its side, the metal pole snapped in half by the storm.

With the water supply cut, Cropper and her family were relying on rainwater they were collecting in buckets and the bathtub they’d filled before the storm. A few feet away, her friend, Jeremy Schalks, smashed open one of the dozens of coconuts littering the ground and drank from it.

“Now what?” she asked. “How will we handle this?”

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