Queensland is bracing itself for what could be one of its worst storms in its history, just over a fortnight after devastating floods claimed the lives of more than 30 people.
Tropical cyclone Yasi is expected to hit the north coast of the Sunshine State on Wednesday evening. Forecasters predict that the storm could bring winds of 160mph – putting it on a par with Hurricane Katrina.
Resorts on the popular Whitsunday Islands have been evacuated, as have those on Hamilton Island. All ports from Cairns to Mackay are to close from Tuesday afternoon.
State Premier Anna Bligh said that the cyclone, which currently lies northwest of Vanuatu, could be the “most significant cyclones that we’ve ever had to deal with”.
Hamilton Island spokeswoman Susan Sullivan said: “In the 25-year history of Hamilton Island it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”
“Guests were today put on to Jetstar and Virgin Blue flights home and the island put on some further charter flights this afternoon just to get people out of the area. We’ve also put people on buses to Brisbane.”
Authorities have also warned locals to stock up on food, water, and other essentials in case they are cut off for a number of days.
There are fears that rains from the cyclone could cause further inundation to the low-lying areas that are still recovering from the flooding in January.
State Premier Anna Bligh said: “This is an event we have to take seriously. I know cyclones can at the last minute turn off the coast, and I certainly hope this one does.”
“We couldn’t rule out further flooding in areas that have already experienced significant flooding in the last four weeks if this cyclone behaves in the way it’s currently predicted to do,” she said.
Queensland is in the middle of cyclone season and escaped major damage when Cyclone Anthony, crossed the coast on Sunday.
The most destructive storm in Australian history was Cyclone Tracy in 1974, which killed 65 people and leaving only about 400 of the Darwin’s 11,200 houses intact.