Queensland braces for Cyclone Yasi

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

SYDNEY - Suburbs and hospitals in Cairns city in Australia were being emptied in a mass flight from the “deadly” power of tropical Cyclone Yasi, as it began lashing the far north Queensland coast, a media report said Tuesday.

In unprecedented scenes, the RAAF laid on medically equipped aircraft to spearhead an airlift of 255 hospital patients to Brisbane, while police prepared to enforce the mandatory evacuation of up to 9,000 people from low-lying parts of Cairns, the Australian reported.

Late Tuesday night, Cairns Mayor Val Schier said 30,000 people had been asked to leave their homes in the region; evacuation centres would be open to accommodate those who could not find shelter with friends or relatives.

Others living in the sugar town of Innisfail and communities in the path of the massive category 4 cyclone were told they would be moved out of the danger zone whether they wanted to go or not.

Anna Bligh warned the “potentially deadly” impact of the cyclone’s 225km/h-plus winds was compounded by the ocean storm surge it would unleash, possibly flooding low-lying areas.

The homes of 9,000 people around the Cairns CBD and thickly populated northern beaches precinct could be submerged when the cyclone strikes early Thursday, lifting the sea level up to 2.5 metres above the high-tide mark.

Renewing her warning to people to leave waterfront and exposed areas while they could, the premier said conditions would deteriorate sharply from 8 a.m. Wednesday, when the coast closest to the cyclone would be lashed by gales of up to 100km/h.

This could make roads impassable. “I don’t want to frighten people, or panic them, but all the information I’m getting is that we are facing a potentially very deadly event,” Bligh said. “We have to make sure everybody knows what’s in front of them so they can prepare themselves.”

Police and SES crews were Tuesday night doorknocking homes in Cairns to enforce mandatory evacuation orders.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland Tuesday activated national disaster arrangements for the air force to co-ordinate the evacuation of patients from the Cairns Base Hospital and Cairns Private Hospital.

Intensive-care patients, heavily pregnant women, new mothers, babies and heart-attack victims were among the 255 people who were carefully strapped into seats and stretchers in the mercy dash Tuesday night.

The fleet included a massive RAAF Globemaster transport aircraft, capable of lifting a 60-tonne tank. A specially fitted out Hercules was being loaded, alongside Royal Flying Doctor Service and Queensland government planes.

The cyclone front was more than 500km wide, and its eye 100 km in diameter as it advanced on the north Queensland coast.

Bligh said Cairns, with its population of 165,000, was set to be the main centre affected. But Townsville, 350 km to the south, would be blasted by winds of up to 125km/h - the equivalent of a category 2 storm.

Thousands of people are believed to have heeded the call to leave vulnerable areas.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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