Queensland braces for Category 5 cyclone

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Thousands of residents are evacuating coastal areas of far north Queensland (QLD), set to be lashed by Cyclone Larry tomorrow morning. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology warns that the “very destructive core of Severe Tropical Cyclone Larry, with extreme gusts up to 280 km/hr (174 mph) should cross the coast between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. AEST on Monday (Sunday, 2100 to 2300 UTC). Destructive winds are expected to commence along the coast between Ingham and Port Douglas. Gales are already being experienced along the exposed coast in the warning area.”

Tropical Cyclone Larry, currently building off far north Queensland, is expected to intensify before crossing the coast. Queensland tropical cyclone warning centre spokesman Bruce Gunn says people should treat warnings very seriously. “This is the worst cyclone we have had for many, many years,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says the cyclone poses a “very serious threat to life and property” and will now post warnings on the hour on its website.

The BOM also warns coastal residents between Cairns and Townsville of dangerous storm tide when the cyclone crosses the coast. The bureau says the sea is likely to steadily rise up to a level which will be significantly above the normal tide, with damaging waves, strong currents and flooding of low-lying areas extending some way inland. People living in those areas should be prepared to evacuate if advised by authorities.

Mandatory evacuations have been enforced in low-lying seafront areas, including in the Johnstone and Cardwell shires south of Cairns, which are expected to bear the force of Larry and its four metre storm surge.

Disaster coordination centres have been activated in Cairns and Townsville. “There have been mandatory evacuations of coastal shires south of Cairns … and emergency shelters set up for people who feel at risk with nowhere to go,” said a Cairns City Council Disaster Coordination Centre spokesman. “It’s most likely thousands of people are evacuating to avoid the high tide.”

Premier Peter Beattie has issued a disaster declaration. Local governments now have the power to enforce mandatory evacuations. Queensland Education Department announced that schools in the hardest hit areas will be closed tomorrow, while flights to Townsville and Cairns have been cancelled.

State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers are doorknocking and advising residents to leave. Bruce Gunn from the Queensland cyclone warning centre says the cyclone will coincide with a high tide. “We are talking seawater a couple of metres above the high-tide mark, possibly more than that, with waves on top, so this is a very serious situation we are talking about,” he said.

Mr Gunn told the ABC that severe weather will be experienced several hours before the cyclone reaches the coast. “While we are saying the coastal crossing will be between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. AEST, the few hours leading up to that will be rather bumpy — not very nice to experience,” he said.