A strong tropical cyclone is heading towards flood-ravaged areas of Australia, sparking evacuations and warnings from officials that the storm could be the worst the region has ever seen.
Cyclone Yasi has strengthened to a Category 3 storm with winds of up to 115mph. It is expected to hit the Queensland state coast on Wednesday or Thursday as a fierce Category 4 storm with winds up to 162mph.
The storm could dump up to 3ft of rain on some communities already saturated from months of flooding, said Queensland premier Anna Bligh.
Yasi is expected to strike somewhere along the state’s north coast, largely avoiding areas to the south – including Brisbane – that have suffered the worst of the recent flooding, but Ms Bligh said the storm’s path could change and residents up and down the coast have been urged to prepare.
“We couldn’t rule out further flooding in areas that have already experienced significant flooding in the last few weeks,” she said.
Yasi is expected to hit Queensland just days after another tropical storm struck the state.
Cyclone Anthony hit the coast early Monday morning and quickly weakened from 80mph winds to a tropical low. The storm uprooted trees and knocked down power lines in some areas but spared communities any major damage.
Speaking about Yasi, Ms Bligh added: “This is an event that we have to take seriously. It may well be one of the largest and most significant cyclones that we’ve ever had to deal with.”
Queensland has already suffered months of flooding since heavy rains began lashing the state in November. The floodwaters killed 35 people, damaged or destroyed 30,000 homes and businesses and left Brisbane, the country’s third largest city and the state capital, under water for days.
Hamilton Island, a popular tourist destination off Queensland, began evacuating some visitors on Monday ahead of Yasi’s arrival, and other islands nearby were considering doing the same, Ms Bligh said.