x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Flood-hit Queensland now faces huge cyclone

An area the length of Britain in north-eastern Australia already suffering from floods is now threatened by Cyclone Yasi with more potentially devastating rainfall and 260kph winds.

SYDNEY // Queensland state in north-eastern Australia is facing one of the worst cyclones in its history, officials warned yesterday, bringing wild winds and potentially devastating rainfall to areas still awash with floods.

The Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, said Cyclone Yasi, a monster storm brewing on the Coral Sea, "may well be one of the largest and most significant cyclones that we've ever had to deal with".

It is on track to reach category four out of a five-point scale by the time it hits the Queensland coast early on Thursday, and officials said it could eclipse Cyclone Larry, a 2006 storm that wrought A$1 billion (Dh3.64bn) in damage.

"This is a very serious threat, I can't [overstate] the possible threat to people who live in this region," Ms Bligh said, warning of the risk of "significant flooding" in coastal areas.

Forecasters said the La Nina-spurred Yasi was expected to pack winds in excess of 260kph and bring intense and prolonged rainfall across a wide swathe of the flood-hit north-east.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a cyclone warning covering a mammoth section of Queensland's coast stretching 900km - nearly the length of Britain.

The bureau forecaster Ann Farrell said: "Larry … was certainly a very intense cyclone but it didn't have anywhere near the size or strong winds."

On Sunday a smaller category two storm, Cyclone Anthony, buffeted the region, tearing up roofs and downing trees and powerlines.

Authorities warned residents to stock up on food, water, batteries and other essentials in case they have to fend for themselves for a number of days after Yasi strikes.

Ms Bligh approved forcible evacuation powers for police, urged people with low-lying waterfront homes to flee inland, and said nursing homes in the cyclone's path were being emptied.

Queensland is still reeling from a record deluge and floods that have destroyed tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 30 people last month, and Ms Bligh warned of further pain for shattered communities.

"We couldn't rule out further flooding in areas that have already experienced significant flooding in the last four weeks if this cyclone behaves in the way it's currently predicted to do," she said.

"This is such a large system that the [weather] bureau does not expect it will dissipate quickly as it crosses, but for that rainfall to continue very significantly into those catchments that we've already seen very significant flooding in."