-- Australians braced Wednesday as a massive, powerful cyclone neared the country's northeastern coast.

Tropical Cyclone Yasi had strengthened to a Category 5, the highest designation on Australia's cyclone classification system, and was predicted to make landfall near midnight (9 a.m. ET) Wednesday.

"I have all my rations ready to go, batteries, candles," said Carl Butcher, who lives in the coastal city of Cairns in Queensland state. "The authorities have been very proactive in informing us about this system. We have known about it for a week. That is more than enough time to prepare for it."

Carly Wallace, who lives near Cairns, said she's stocking up on food and water.

"There's always panic buying when it comes to cyclones -- everyone goes a little bit crazy. But with this one, because of how big it is, everyone's going out buying everything," the Atherton Tablelands resident said.

Wallace said grocery store shelves were empty in the town of Atherton.

"Nearly everything was gone off the shelf, even long-life milk and things like batteries and tape. There was no bread at all. So everyone is panic-buying but I think it's for good reason."

Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi has winds of 230 kph (143 mph) and maximum wind gusts of 300 kph (186 mph), and is expected to maintain that intensity until making landfall, forecasters said.

CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado said there will be heavy rain in Queensland and the rain could continue until Friday.

Queensland is no stranger to cyclones.

Many residents of the state had to take shelter last March when Category 3 Tropical Cyclone Ului barreled in. But that storm will not compare to the strength that Tropical Cyclone Yasi packs.

Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart warned the state faces "one of the most significant weather events" in its history.

"This is a life-threatening storm, and people need to understand that they have a final window of opportunity to self-evacuate," Stewart said.

The state's premier, Anna Bligh, has urged residents in the threatened areas to take sensible precautions and to stay inside once the storm hits.

The cyclone threatens more devastation for Queensland, which already has been hit by deadly flooding in recent weeks.

More than 20 people died and thousands of homes were wrecked when severe flooding hit Queensland in January, affecting 3.1 million people.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a one-off flood tax aimed at helping to pay for the estimated AUS $5.6 billion (US $5.58 billion) damage caused.