Tropical cyclone off Australia weakening

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SYDNEY, March 9 (Reuters) - A tropical cyclone off Australia's northeast coast, with destructive 295 kph (177 mph) winds, was weakening on Monday and not expected to hit the coast, weather officials said.

Evacuations of thousands of people, many tourists from offshore island resorts, had been put on hold to see if the storm would weaken from a category four, the second-highest grading, to a category three.

Cyclone Hamish was travelling in a southeastern track parallel to the coast and predicted to move further out to sea in the next 24 hours, Cyclone warning centre forecaster Tony Auden told local media.

"The path has more shifted out to sea and it's more likely to stay out there now," said Auden.

Hamish was whipping up huge seas which could cause coastal flooding. "As the cyclone moves to the southeast, sea levels are expected to be elevated above the normal tide along the coastline and large waves may produce minor flooding," said Auden.

Despite some reports of flooding, the damage reported from the cyclone so far has been limited.

Australia is the world's third-biggest sugar exporter and sugar farmers in Queensland, who produce 95 percent of the crop, are already facing substantial losses. Thousands of cattle are also estimated to have perished in earlier flooding.

Queensland has been battling major floods since December 2008 after a series of storms and cyclones.

(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Valerie Lee)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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