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Australia Northeast shores fear hurricane, floods
Updated at: 1301 PST, Sunday, March 08, 2009
SYDNEY: Thousands of holidaymakers fled one of Australia's top tourist destinations Sunday as a tropical cyclone lashed the country's northeast coast.
Authorities in Queensland state ordered the evacuation of Fraser Island as Tropical Cyclone Hamish approached the World Heritage-listed site shortly after it was upgraded to a category five storm, the most severe on the weather scale. The cyclone has been tracking south about 120 kilometres (75 miles) off the Queensland coast, but meteorologists warn its path is unpredictable and it could veer onto the mainland, potentially sparking a major disaster.
Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said three islands were evacuated Sunday -- Fraser, Heron and Lady Elliot -- bringing the total number of tourist islands cleamated 500 million dollars (321 million US) in damage to crops and infrastructure. Even it remains offshore, the storm could cause major flooding, high seas and wind gusts reaching up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) an hour.
Thousands flee Australia cyclone
Sunday, March 08, 2009
18:52 Mecca time, 15:52 GMT
Thousands of tourists and
residents have been evacuated from Australia's islands on the Great Barrier Reef, as a tropical cyclone battered the region, state officials said.
Evacuations were carried out on Sunday, following warnings from the weather bureau that Cyclone Hamish could cause substantial damage and flooding, with the
storm packing winds of up to 295kph.
Despite the Bureau of Meteorology downgrading Hamish to a category 4 storm, the second highest level, up to 3,000 people were evacuated from the popular tourist destination of Fraser Island, a spokesman for Queensland state's emergency services minister, said.
"They are being moved off the island by barge. The process has been under way most of the day," the spokesman said. He said evacuations were also planned for other islands.
Although the damage reported from the cyclone has so far been limited, Anna Bligh, Queensland's prime minister, has declared a "disaster situation" in response to the storm.
Sugar farmers in Queensland, who produce 95 per cent of Australia's sugar crop, are already facing substantial losses, battling floods since December 2008 after a number of storms and cyclones.
Thousands of cattle are also thought to have died in earlier flooding in the area.