Flood ravaged Queensland, Australia, is bracing for what could be the most savage cyclone to hit the state ever.
Cyclone Yasi is expected to be a severe category four cyclone when it crosses the Queensland coastline early on Thursday morning.
The government has issued warnings to residents in low-lying, waterfront areas along a vast stretch of coastline, to evacuate.
The biggest impact will be along the stretch of coastline between Innisfail and Mackay.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said that Cyclone Yasi had the potential to be one of the “most significant cyclones that we’ve ever had to deal with”.
The cyclone will add to the misery of Queenslanders who have just experienced the worst flooding since 1974, which killed at least 25 people. Scores of people are still missing.
The devastating Queensland floods. which, with damage estimated at $5.6bn, was Australia’s costliest natural disaster.
It left large parts of the state underwater and inundated the capital city of Brisbane.
Cyclone Yasi intensified into a category three about 5pm (AEST) today, and was hovering about 1780km east northeast of Townsville.
All ports from Cairns to Mackay are to close from Tuesday afternoon and resort islands have begun evacuating guests.
Daydream Island will evacuate guests and staff on Tuesday and Tourism Whitsundays is arranging extra flights out of nearby Proserpine to cope with numbers.
Queensland was struck on Sunday by a smaller storm, Cyclone Anthony, which tore roofs off houses and felled trees in northern coastal areas.
“This is a very serious threat,” Bligh told reporters in Brisbane.
“[Yasi] may well be one of the largest and most significant cyclones that we have ever had to deal with.”
“I know cyclones can at the last minute turn off the coast, and I certainly hope this one does.
“But the bureau advises me in the most serious terms, that all of the modelling right now says this is going to cross our coast.”
About 100 animals at the RSPCA’s animal shelter are also being flown out to Brisbane on Tuesday.
Whether schools would need to close was still being considered.
Bligh added: “In addition to a very significant cyclone, possibly one of the largest we have ever seen in Queensland, we expect to see this event become a significant rainfall event in areas to the south and surrounding where it crosses the coast.”
“This could be very powerful flash flooding.
“… I would rather that people and their families were inconvenienced for two or three days by moving out of home than finding themselves in a potentially life-threatening situation on Thursday because they didn’t take the right precaution.”
She said communities like Condamine and Emerald, which had already flooded this summer, could flood again as up to 100mm was dumped in already saturated catchments.
“Look, I hope that we are wrong, I hope the cyclone turns around,” she said.
“I hope that on Thursday and Friday we’re all breathing a big sigh of relief.”
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Ann Farrell said the last cyclone of a similar magnitude to hit Queensland was category four Cyclone Larry.
Larry left a trail of destruction including damage to 10,000 homes and a repair bill of more than a billion dollars.
Farrell said there were many measures on which to judge cyclones, including wind strength and the physical size of the storm.
In terms of wind strength, Yasi had the potential to rival Larry, but it was of a far greater physical size.
“One measure is how far do the gales extend from the central eye. In this case, Yasi is certainly a bigger storm,” she said.
Senior forecaster Peter Otto said it was difficult to compare Yasi to the country’s most destructive, Cyclone Tracy, a category four that flattened the city of Darwin on Christmas Eve, 1974, killing dozens of people and injuring thousands more.
“Cyclone Tracy was incredibly small but destructive. This one will be bigger (in size) but it’s hard to say whether it would be more destructive,” Mr Otto said.