Cyclone bears down on Australian tourist islands
Severe Tropical Cyclone Hamish was upgraded to a category four hurricane late Saturday afternoon, gathering destructive momentum as it tracked along Australia's north-east coast.
On Saturday afternoon it was 295 kilometres (183 miles) southeast of tourist spot Cairns -- a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef -- and was bearing down on the Whitsundays island group.
Some of the islands had been evacuated and further removals could be necessary Sunday, said Queensland state's Premier Anna Bligh, warning it was the worst weather since Cyclone Larry in 2006.
"On current predictions it does appear that if this crosses the coast it could be the worst that we have seen since Cylone Larry," said Bligh.
"It is already clear that if it does cross the coast at any point it is a serious cyclone that will cause extensive damage."
The Cyclone Warning Centre said the Whitsundays were in the cyclone's path, and forecast destructive wind gusts of up to 150 kilometres per hour on Sunday near the islands.
By the time it makes landfall late Sunday or early Monday near the city of Mackay, Hamish could be gusting at up to 280 kilometres per hour near its centre, the weather bureau said.
Officials on Hamilton Island, one of the largest islands in the Whitsundays, said they were on cyclone warning blue.
"(That) means some of the residents (are) ready to move into the Reef View Hotel, which is our principal safe haven," the island's chief executive Glen Bourke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The state government advised residents in the region to prepare emergency kits and closely monitor radio bulletins in case they were required to evacuate.
Australia's northeast was last devastated by a category four storm -- the second-highest rating -- in 2006, when Cyclone Larry caused damage amounting to an estimated 500 million dollars (321 million US) to crops and infrastructure.
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/07/2009 02:08:05
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