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Thousands evacuated as cyclone hits island

THOUSANDS of tourists and residents were evacuated from island resorts on Australia's Great Barrier Reef yesterday as an intense tropical cyclone bore down on the region, state officials said.

Australia's weather bureau warned that Tropical Cyclone Hamish could cause substantial damage and flooding, with the storm at its height packing winds of up to 295 kilometers per hour.

Around 3,000 people were being evacuated from Fraser Island, two-thirds of them tourists, a spokesman for Queensland state's emergency services minister said yesterday.

"They are being moved off the island by barge. The process has been under way most of the day," the spokesman said.

Evacuations had been ordered at other islands as well, he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology has downgraded Hamish to a category 4 storm, the second highest level, but it still warned late last night that flooding and wind damage were likely to occur, with wind speeds of up to 260km/h.

Flooding could occur along parts of the mainland coast, the bureau said. Despite some reports of flooding, the damage reported from the cyclone so far has been limited.

State Premier Anna Bligh declared a "disaster situation" in response to the storm.

Australia is the world's third-biggest sugar exporter and sugar farmers in Queens°?land, who produce 95 percent of Australia's sugar crop, are already facing substantial losses. Thousands of cattle are also estimated to have perished in earlier floodings.


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