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Australian Islands Evacuated as Cyclone Hamish Lashes Coast

March 8th, 2009 Category: Tropical Cyclones

Tropical Cyclone Hamish 18P, Infrared and Water Vapour composite - March 8th 2009, 12:00 UTC

Tropical Cyclone Hamish 18P, Infrared and Water Vapour composite - March 8th 2009, 12:00 UTC

Australian authorities evacuated resort islands in Queensland state and put emergency services on alert as Tropical Cyclone Hamish lashed the northern coast with strong winds.

About 3,000 people, including hotel guests, residents and campers are being evacuated from Fraser Island, a World Heritage, listed site about 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of the state capital, Brisbane, the Department of Emergency Services said. Only essential workers have been allowed to stay at Lady Elliot and Heron resort islands.

Troops can be “deployed at short notice if required not only in the event of a major disaster but to assist with evacuations,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said at a televised news conference today.

The cyclone, with winds as high as 260 kilometers (162 miles) an hour, was heading south-southeast parallel to Queensland’s coast, threatening islands along the Great Barrier Reef, the Bureau of Meteorology said today. The state government warned people to be prepared to flee their homes at short notice.

Hamish was downgraded by the bureau to a Category 4 storm from Category 5 at 1 p.m. local time. Forecasters said the storm had earlier been as powerful as Cyclone Larry, which caused widespread destruction when it made landfall in Queensland in 2006, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Islands in Lockdown

Hamilton Island went into lockdown last night with residents and tourists sheltering from the storm in the largest hotels. The lockdown was set to be lifted this afternoon, Susan Boyd, a tourism spokeswoman for the island, said by telephone. She said holidaymakers were expected to start flying into the resort again from tomorrow.

Hamish was estimated to be 170 kilometers east-northeast of Mackay and heading south-southeast at 17 kilometers an hour, the weather bureau said. The eye of the storm isn’t forecast to hit the coast.

“Destructive winds are expected to affect exposed coastal and island communities between Mackay and Gladstone,” the bureau said on its Web site.

The Whitsundays, a string of 74 tropical islands bordered by the Great Barrier Reef, should be spared the “very destructive core of the cyclone,” according to an earlier bureau advisory.

Sea levels are expected to rise as the storm moves southeast and large waves may produce flooding along the foreshore, it said in the latest update. Heavy rain may cause rivers to flood.

Queensland accounts for about 95 percent of sugar production in Australia. Much of the sugar cane is grown in coastal regions. The state is also home to coal and base metal mines.

Heavy rain in northern Queensland in recent months caused flooding that may cut sugar output as much as 15 percent in 2009, CSR Ltd., the nation’s biggest sugar refiner, said last month.

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