First came the terrifying roar, then a violent bang like something had exploded. "We gotta go!" David Leger screamed to his father as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in Australia tore the roof off their home, sucking the air up and out of the room like a vacuum.
Leger and his parents scrambled down the staircase, but the house shook violently, sending 83-year-old Francis Leger tumbling down the stairs. The family finally made it to a small room on the ground floor, where they rode out the ferocious storm that slammed into the already flood-ravaged Queensland state Thursday.
"We're just thankful," David Leger said later as he slogged across the drenched carpet of their ruined home, water pooling around his sandaled feet. "This is only material."
Residents and officials were amazed and relieved that no one was reported killed by the monstrous Cyclone Yasi, which roared across northern Queensland with winds up to 170 mph (280 kph). Tidal surges sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, several small towns directly under Yasi's eye were devastated and hundreds of millions of dollars of banana and sugarcane crops were shredded.
Officials said lives were spared because, after days of increasingly dire warnings, people followed instructions to flee to evacuation centers or bunker themselves at home in dozens of cities and towns in Yasi's path.