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Residents flee as cyclone heads for Australian coast
[March 19, 2006]

Residents flee as cyclone heads for Australian coast

(The Nation (Thailand) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)BRISBANE, Australia - Thousands of residents fled their homes as the worst cyclone to threaten Australia\'s Queensland state for decades bore down on the coast Sunday.

Tropical Cyclone Larry was expected to hit the north-eastern state early Monday with wind gusts of up to 280 kilometres (175 mph) an hour and storm surges of up to two metres (6.6 feet), the weather bureau said.

Mandatory evacuations were enforced in several coastal areas including holiday resorts in the path of the cyclone, the national AAP news agency reported.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie declared a disaster situation, giving authorities the legal power to forcibly remove any reluctant evacuees as the 80 km-wide storm-front headed for land.

Major airlines cancelled all flights into the city of Cairns. Shelters for evacuees were set up in inland towns.

\"I want people to understand that the advice we\'re given is that it is very serious -- category four. The weather bureau says we haven\'t have one of these for decades,\" Beattie told national ABC radio.

The weather bureau said the cyclone, pressing in from the Coral Sea east of Townsville, could worsen to Category Five -- the highest -- by the time it made landfall.

The bureau describes a Category Five cyclone as \"extremely dangerous with widespread destruction\". It said Larry posed a very serious threat to life and property.

The cyclone\'s \"very destructive core\" is expected to cross the coast between Innisfail and Mission Beach between 7 am and 9 am on Monday.

Destructive winds were expected to start battering the coast between Ingham and Port Douglas earlier in the morning, with gales already being experienced along the exposed coast on Sunday evening.

Petrol stations recorded a big rise in business with residents filling up their tanks to drive south or inland, while supermarkets were inundated by people stocking up on supplies.

Cardwell Service Station owner Rachael King said business had been \"non-stop\" with people \"getting into their cars and driving wherever they can get to\".

\"The population is about 13,000 ... I reckon half of them are on their way out,\" King said.

Beattie said the authorities were worried about hospitals and other buildings in the cyclone\'s path.

But Cairns resident Warwick Hatcher told ABC radio he was staying put. \"Machams Beach is famous for its cyclone parties so I\'m happy to stay,\" he said.

Disaster coordination centres were activated in Cairns and Townsville while the state government sent response teams from Brisbane in preparation for destruction caused by gale-force winds, torrential rain and flooding.

On Christmas Day 1974, category four Cyclone Tracy hit the northern Australian city of Darwin, killing 49 people and another 16 at sea. Some 70 per cent of Darwins homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

Agence France-Presse

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