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Australians scramble for shelter as Cyclone Yasi approaches

Dave Hunt / EPA

Pool chairs are sunk for safety at a hotel in Cairns, north Queensland, Australia on Feb. 2. Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi, now a maximum-force Category Five storm, has increased speed and is due to make landfall on the night of Feb. 2 between Cairns and Innisfail.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

A hand painted board protects the front window of a cafe in the northern Australian city of Cairns on Feb 2.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Local resident Selwyn Hughes sits with his children outside an emergency cyclone shelter after it was declared full and the gate locked in the northern Australian city of Cairns on Feb. 2. Catagory five Cyclone Yasi, expected to be the most powerful storm to cross Australia's heavily populated east coast in generations, is expected to make landfall late on Wednesday night.

Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images

Christie Nugent brings her beloved 14-year-old dog 'Scruffy' to an emergency evacuation centre as potentially catastrophic cyclone approaches Innisfail on Feb. 2.

One of the most powerful cyclones in Australia's history is bearing down on a string of popular tourist cities lining the Queensland coast.

The first major gusts hit the coast as frightened residents and backpackers scrambled to find safe havens with just hours before Cyclone Yasi delivers its full wrath.

"This is a cyclone of savagery and intensity," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a news conference. "People are facing some really dreadful hours in front of them."

Full story here.