Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Hundreds are evacuating Great Barrier Reef islands and ports, and ships are on notice amid warnings Cyclone Ului will hit the central Queensland coast this weekend.

More than 300 tourists and residents are being evacuated from Heron Island, off Rockhampton, and Lady Elliot Island, off Gladstone, over the next two days.

In Rockhampton, the local disaster management committee is meeting to ensure the region is prepared.

Commercial shipping has been put on notice.

The weather bureau expects Ului, which is currently a category four cyclone, to cross the coast somewhere between Bowen and Gladstone on Saturday or Sunday.

It says the cyclone could bring swells of between eight and 10 metres, but that will depend on exactly where it hits and its intensity.

Last March, cargo ship the Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers and spilt 270,000 litres of fuel oil in rough seas whipped up by Cyclone Hamish.

Maritime Safety Queensland said that while cyclones increased the risk of oil spills, it had contingency plans in place.

But opposition transport spokeswoman Fiona Simpson says she has serious doubts the marine agency would be up to the task, having mishandled the Pacific Adventurer oil spill.

"It took them eight days to come up with an oil spill recovery plan and then 14 days to implement that," Ms Simpson said.

"It was a dog's breakfast in regards to preparation and response. They failed in their duty to be prepared."

Meanwhile, Rockhampton mayor Brad Carter is warning any deluge the cyclone brings could quickly cut road access.

He says a number of rural roads in the Rockhampton area were already affected by heavy rain in the past two months.

"If people are going to batten down, they're going to need all of their provisions and emergency services with them and make that decision to either batten down or evacuate as early as possible," Mr Carter said.

He said the Fitzroy River, which flows through Rockhampton, had started to fall but the water level remained high from recent rain.

"With a bit of local rain and a bit of local stream activity, it certainly will increase local flooding problems," Mr Carter said.

Premier Anna Bligh said councils were ready to activate their disaster management plans if Ului swept in.

At 6pm (AEST) on Wednesday, the category four storm was about 1200km northeast of Mackay and moving south at about six kilometres an hour.

"All local councils have a disaster management plan which they can activate in a very, very short time frame once they know this cyclone may be heading in their direction," Ms Bligh said.

"But at this stage this cyclone could head out to sea. We'll just have to wait and see."

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