Cyclone Yasi 1
© AFP: Torsten Blackwood
Scott Torrens (left) and his children look to where their roof once was in Mourilyan, south of Innisfail
Emergency crews are cutting their way into storm-shattered communities in north Queensland to assess the extent of the damage after category five Cyclone Yasi roared ashore overnight.

The towns of Tully, Mission Beach, Cardwell, Silkwood and Innisfail bore the brunt of the monster storm's 285kph winds but there are no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Buildings were destroyed, roofs were ripped off houses, and trees were shredded as the monster storm slammed ashore about midnight. More than 180,000 homes remain without power.

The cyclone is continuing to weaken but there is now heavy rain and damaging wind gusts in excess of 90kph, which are expected to extend to the Northern Territory border including Longreach and Mount Isa overnight.

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson says the cyclone is expected to be a category one system when it hits.

"I don't think that people in those areas would ever have experienced a category two cyclone, or for that matter, a category one cyclone," he said.

"It would seem that we have been blessed and fortunate so far and we want that to continue."

Cyclone Yasi 2
© AFP: Paul Crock
Boats piled on top of each other at the Port Hinchinbrook Marina, just south of Cardwell
Emergency crews who have just entered the coastal town of Cardwell have reported widespread damage, with older buildings the worst hit.

A woman who drove into Cardwell on a backhoe last night says trees and powerlines are down and many houses and commercial buildings in the town have been destroyed or extensively damaged.

The weather bureau's Peter Otto says the tidal surge in Cardwell came close to the predicted seven-metre level, and authorities in the town have found boats swept two blocks inland.

Early estimates from Tully are that one in three homes have suffered storm damage and 20 per cent of businesses in the CBD area were affected.

Red Cross teams are moving into the area to help people who have been left homeless.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says some towns appear to have escaped major damage.

"I certainly think that many in north Queensland will be breathing a sigh of relief," she said.

"I am equally aware that communities will be facing scenes of considerable devastation. Many people will be feeling a great sense of despair. Can I say to you, 'You are not alone'."

Confirming that there were no reports of deaths, Ms Bligh cautioned it was too early to draw any conclusions.

"It's a long way to go before I say we've dodged any bullets," she said.

Ms Bligh says suburbs to the north of Townsville and areas in the upper Burdekin area are also bracing for heavy flooding.

She says Palm Island has not seen significant damage, although powerlines were down and roofs were damaged.

Frightening night

Cyclone Yasi 3
© AAP: Dave Hunt
Homes destroyed - the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi in the town of Tully
Tully residents say the cyclone sounded like a runaway train as it pounded their homes.

"The wind and the sound of roofs being peeled off ... I just think it's just tragic," said one resident.

Red Cross coordinator Noelene Byrne said the town resembled a war zone.

"It's just like weapons have come through, bombs have come through and destroyed everything," she said.

News Limited photographer John Wilson said it appeared every house in the town had been damaged.

Parts of the town had also been inundated.

'It certainly is an extensive amount of damage to a large number of buildings here," he said.

Tully local Gordon was defiant in the face of the monster storm, saying: "Category five and we survived".


Cyclone Yasi 4
© ABC: Kerrin Binnie
A house is destroyed with only the toilet left standing at Mission Beach, south of Innisfail
Raymond Bosnich of Mission Beach says the town is a scene of devastation, with vegetation stripped bare and extensive damage to homes.

Beachfront roads and properties have also been inundated by the storm surge.

"I would rate it as the same level as when Cyclone Larry came through five years ago," he said.

"It's gut-wrenching, to do it all again so soon, it's something that none of us are looking forward to.

"But we'll do it, we've done it before and the community will do it again."

Police officers at Mission Beach say they thought they were going to die.

Sergeant Dan Gallagher says most of the town's 6,000 residents left days ago to avoid the monster storm, but about 1,000 people stayed behind and he is hoping no-one has been hurt.

He says he has been through big cyclones before, but Yasi was the most frightening thing he has ever experienced.

"The whole building really started to have a bit of shake to it, certainly the roaring of the wind was astronomical," he said.

"Hearing things breaking outside was really something that you just couldn't imagine in our township. I expect there to be fairly substantial damage out there and the possibility we may have injuries."

Local woman Suzanne McClure says the cyclone has wrought havoc in the marina at Port Hinchinbrook, south of Cardwell.

"What I'm seeing at the moment is the mass destruction of all the million-dollar yachts and cruisers and everything that's been moored in this marina over the last few months," she said.

"They're all sitting up in everybody's yards just smashed to pieces."