9 Mar 2009

Relief as Queensland cyclone stays at sea

11:00 am on 9 March 2009

A tropical cyclone threatening the Australian state of Queensland is now expected to remain out to sea - to the relief of thousands of Queenslanders who have fled from its probable path.

But at its centre, Cyclone Hamish is still generating winds of up to 250 kilometres an hour as some areas brace for the highest tides of the year.

The category-four storm has already caused major disruptions, with three resort islands and a hospital evacuated and ports closed.

The category-four cyclone has been moving south in line with the coast, but had been expected to cause havoc in the city of Gladstone and the town of Yeppoon, where hundreds of homes have been sandbagged and the hospital evacuated.

On Sunday, up to 10,000 residents of Queensland's Wide Bay region were told to consider getting out before Cyclone Hamish arrived.

Australian Bureau of Metereology regional director Jim Davidson says it is "small, compact and very intense" and on a par with Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.

He says the cyclone is maintaining its course parallel to the central Queensland coast, generating strong winds and big seas.

Residents between Burrum Heads and River Heads are being advised to leave if they have somewhere else to go, and authorities say that up to 10,000 people may have to move from low-lying areas.

National parks have been closed and 1,000 campers have been told to leave Fraser Island.

Lady Elliot and Heron Islands, off the coast of Gladstone, have also been evacuated as a precaution.