| Tourists evacuated from Great Barrier Reef islands
| Wednesday, March 17, 2010
|Hundreds of tourists and residents are being shipped off two islands on Australia's Great Barrier Reef as Cyclone Ului approaches.
Authorities are rushing to evacuate 260 people from Heron Island and 70 from Lady Elliott Island in preparation for the arrival of the storm.
Both islands, which lie off the north coast of Queensland, will be completely emptied over the next two days.
In Rockhampton, the destination for the people evacuated from Heron Island, the local disaster management committee is meeting to ensure the region is prepared.
The weather bureau expects Cyclone Ului, which is currently listed as a category four cyclone, to cross the coast somewhere between the towns of Bowen and Gladstone on Saturday or Sunday.
The bureau warned that the cyclone could bring swells of up to 32 feet and potentially destructive winds.
"It's unknown what will occur, however for safety ... Lady Elliot and Heron Island, they will commence evacuation today," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
She said the evacuation was being carried out early to avoid people being trapped by rough seas.
The Heron Island Resort said on its website that it would close as a precaution until Saturday, when the situation would be reassessed.
Brad Carter, Rockhampton Mayor, said that the town's disaster management committee was meeting to ensure that communities were prepared.
He said a cyclone rated as category three or stronger could cause big problems.
"One of the issues we have to look at is tidal surge - the impact of the rising sea level in conjunction with wave activity and cyclonic activity," he told the ABC. "A number of parts of our coastline are very exposed."
While the cyclone is expected to make landfall in the north of the state, the southcoast, including beaches near Brisbane, has been warned to expect large swells.
The weather bureau has also warned that the heavy rain could cause flooding and that the storm would bring "destructive-type winds".
The damage could be worse if the storm strengthened into a category five, bureau spokesman Ben Annells said.
The cyclone is bad news for Queensland's tourism industry, which has been struggling to boost visitors in the wake of the global downturn.
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 A$500 million (US$321 million) to crops and infrastructure.
The warnings over Cyclone Ului came days after Fiji suffered overwhelming damage from Cycone Tomas.
Fiji sent naval patrol boats laden with supplies and support staff sailing for the northern islands that bore the full brunt of the storm, while Australian and New Zealand air force planes began airlifting emergency supplies to the island group.
Only one death has been reported, but the full extent of the damage has yet to be determined because communications to the hardest hit areas were cut off for days.
|posted by Moderator Londen time 1:30 PM