Authorities have scrambled to airlift hospital patients from the path of a cyclone roaring towards waterlogged north-eastern Australia on Tuesday and urged residents to flee potentially deadly flash floods.
Cyclone Yasi is expected to slam into the coast of Queensland state on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm and dump up to three feet of rain on communities already saturated from months of flooding.
“This storm is huge and it is life-threatening,” said Queensland premier Anna Bligh. “I know many of us will feel that Queensland has already borne about as much as we can bear when it comes to disasters and storms, but more is being asked of us – and I am confident that we are able to rise to this next challenge.”
Yasi was barrelling towards the Queensland state coast as a strong Category 3 storm with winds up to 137mph, but was expected to turn into a Category 4 storm with wind gusts up to 155mph by Wednesday.
Ms Bligh said the military would airlift 250 patients from the waterfront Cairns Base and Cairns Private hospitals to Brisbane, the state capital.
Although there were no mandatory evacuation orders yet, residents in waterfront and low-lying areas from the cities of Cairns to Townsville were being advised to leave.
Ian Stewart, the state’s disaster co-ordinator, said many people were deciding on their own to evacuate and that he would discuss with mayors whether forced evacuations were needed. “In reality, we would like people to get as far south as possible, as quickly as possible, without of course breaking the rules,” he told reporters.
Another storm, Cyclone Anthony, hit Queensland early on Monday, but quickly weakened and did little more than uproot some trees and damage power lines.
Queensland has already suffered flooding since heavy rain started in November. The floodwaters killed 35 people, damaged or destroyed 30,000 homes and businesses and left Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, under water for days.
Yasi is expected to strike farther north, sparing Brisbane and other towns that suffered the worst of the recent flooding. Still, Ms Bligh said the storm’s path could change and residents up and down the coast needed to prepare.