FACTBOX - Australia's deadliest & most destructive cyclones

Wed Feb 2, 2011 9:57am IST

A weather satellite image obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows tropical cyclone Yasi passing the Solomon Islands while approaching the coast of Australia on February 1, 2011.  REUTERS/NOAA/MTSAT/Handout

A weather satellite image obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows tropical cyclone Yasi passing the Solomon Islands while approaching the coast of Australia on February 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/NOAA/MTSAT/Handout

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REUTERS - Cyclone Yasi, packing winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) per hour, has already written its page in the history of severe storms, even before it hits the Australian coast.

Heading straight for cities on the northeast coast, it ranks among the most powerful cyclones ever recorded and is thought to be the biggest to head for major Australian population centres.

Yasi, expected to hit small tourist cities such as Cairns and Townsville later on Wednesday, is a "category 5" cyclone, the highest rating possible and the first such tempest to hit cyclone-prone Queensland coast at this force since 1918.

Here are a list of other big cyclones to have hit Australia in recorded history, along with a description of the five cyclone categories. For comparison, Hurricane Katrina, which smashed New Orleans in 2005, is also listed.

Cyclone Mahina, 1899: Australia's deadliest. It hit the far northeast coast of Queensland, killing more than 400 people, including the crews of around 100 pearling vessels. It still ranks as the country's deadliest natural disaster, according to a government Web site.

Cyclone Tracy, 1974: Category 4, Australia's most destructive. It hit the small northern city of Darwin in the early hours of Christmas Day with wind gusts of up to 250 km per hour, destroying or badly damaging more than 70 percent of the city's buildings. Tracy also killed 71 people and injured 650, though it was relatively small compared with Yasi.

Summer of 1918: Two cyclones (they have no names) hit the Queensland coast within two months of each other, killing a total of 120 people. The first, thought to have been a category 5, killed 30 people and dumped 1.4 metres rain in three days. The second killed nearly 90 people.

Cyclone Larry, 2006: No lives were lost when it hit the Queensland coast, but damage to infrastructure and crops was extensive and estimated at more than A$1 billion ($1.01 billion). It flattened sugarcane fields and cut Queensland's raw sugar output by 8 percent.

Cyclone Joan, 1975: one of the most intense tropical cyclones on record to hit Australia, this time on the northwest coast. It damaged buildings in the remote town of Port Headland and also railways.

Cyclone Ingrid, 2005: a category 5 cyclone, it swirled across three states and territories -- Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It was small in size but very intense. No reports of serious injury or death.

Cyclone Olivia, 1996: generated a wind gust of 408 kph (255 mph) on Barrow Island off west Australia, a world record.

Hurricane Katrina, 2005 - A category 5 hurricane off the Gulf of Mexico, it came ashore in August near New Orleans. It killed about 1,500 people on the U.S. Gulf Coast and caused $80 billion in damage, the costliest cyclone in U.S. history.

Tropical Cyclone Category System

Category 1 - wind and gales of 90-125 kph, negligible house damage, some damage to trees and crops.

Category 2 - Destructive winds of 125-164 kph. Minor house damage, significant damage to trees, crops and caravans, risk of power failure.

Category 3 - Very destructive winds of 165-224 kph. Some roof and structural damage, some caravans destroyed, power failure likely.

Category 4 - Very destructive winds of 225-279 kph. Significant roofing loss and structural damage, caravans destroyed, blown away, widespread power failures.

Category 5 - Very destructive winds gusts of more than 280 kph. Extremely dangerous with widespread destruction.

Sources:

- Department of Culture and Recreation Web site (here)

- Australian Bureau of Meteorology

- U.S. National Weather Service

- Media briefing by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh

- Commonwealth Bank research

($1 = 0.988 Australian Dollars)

(Reporting by Amy Pyett; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Jonathan Thatcher)

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