Hundreds of people started evacuating resort islands off Australia’s popular east as officials braced for a powerful cyclone packing winds of up to 168 kilometres an hour.
About 300 people were being ferried from the Great Barrier Reef islands of Heron and Lady Elliott, north of Brisbane, with Tropical Cyclone Ului about 1,200 kilometres offshore and likely to make landfall on Saturday or Sunday.
“Cyclones by their very nature are very unpredictable weather patterns,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh warned.
Cyclone Ului, which has already brought strong winds and rough seas to the Queensland coast, was moving slowly but heading towards the mainland and was likely to hit between the towns of Bowen and Gladstone.
“Most of the models are showing that it will come towards the Queensland coast and weaken,” a spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology told AFP.
“But what intensity it will have is difficult to say.”
Conditions would worsen as the cyclone, currently at the second highest level of category four, approached, he said.
“It is not a weak system, at this stage it is a very severe tropical cyclone and it has brought 90-knot winds close to the centre,” he said.
Residents along the Queensland coast have been urged to prepare for the cyclone by stocking up on non-perishable foods, water and medication.
“At this stage we are not certain of where the cyclone may impact if it does hit, which makes it vitally important that everyone is prepared for the possibility of impact,” regional director Robbie Medlin said.
The cyclone follows heavy rains and flooding in Queensland.