Fitzroy Island has been evacuated as Far North Queensland authorities prepare for the second tropical cyclone of the summer, with Cyclone Kimi predicted to make landfall in the area around Cardwell on Monday night.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was important for locals to stay up to date with alerts as the cyclone could change course.
“The bureau will be giving you updates every three hours and, of course, cyclones are a little bit unpredictable and they will move, of course, during the course of today,” she said.
Police Minister Mark Ryan said crews were on standby if the cyclone changed direction.
“We’ve got swift water rescue crews already stood up in the north and far north and aircraft on standby to move them as the cyclone tracks to different locations,” he said.
“We’re on the ground now, we’re able to deploy those resources to other places should the cyclone track change and we’re working very closely with all the other stakeholders to make sure we’re ready for this event.”
Island evacuated as locals caught by surprise
More than 200 people have been evacuated from Fitzroy Island off Cairns as a precautionary measure.
Fitzroy Island CEO Glen Macdonald said everything had been removed from the island that could be considered a projectile.
“Only core staff remain so we can get back to business when it is safe to do so,” Mr Macdonald said.
He said the cyclone caught many people by surprise.
“It was difficult because the first cyclone advice from the BOM wasn’t until 12.20pm and then there was another one at 2pm, at which time we decided to remove guests.”
On Sunday night, the regional harbour master issued a red cyclone alert for vessel operators at ports in Cairns, Port Douglas, Innisfail, Half Moon Bay Marina and Cooktown, meaning the ports are now only open for emergency movements.
Emergency Management Queensland northern regional director Wayne Coutts said all residents in the warning zone should be aware of the erratic nature of Cyclone Kimi.
“Kimi could turn in towards the coast and approach you fairly quickly, so just because the cyclone track map has things moving south, people through that Cairns, Innisfail area should watch the BOM warnings and pay attention,” Mr Coutts said.
Threat of flooding
The Bureau of Meteorology said the cyclone was sitting just east of Port Douglas as a category one system but was likely to become at least a category two before making landfall.
A warning has been issued for an area covering from Port Douglas to Lucinda.
The BOM said Cyclone Kimi would continue south-south-west and was expected to cross the coast between Innisfail and Lucinda.
Destructive wind gusts up to 150km/h are predicted, along with heavy rainfall, abnormally high tides and flash flooding.
Meteorologist Shane Kennedy said even if the cyclone did not intensify, it would still bring some significant impacts to the north tropical coast.
Mr Kennedy said there was a flood risk for Queensland’s north, given the region was soaked by ex-Tropical Cyclone Imogen at the start of January.
“If it had been much drier in the past week or two then certainly that ground would have soaked up a lot more. Particularly around the Murray and the Herbert rivers … those areas are really primed,” he said.
The cyclone is predicted to drop into a tropical low over Wednesday.
“Once it moves over land, we are expecting things to weaken … it likely won’t be until Wednesday-on when things will really calm down.”
Ingham Mayor Raymon Jayo said he expected heavy rainfall to result in rapid river rises and reminded residents to be prepared.
In recent weeks, the town has experienced intense localised flooding, while residents in the Lower Herbert have been isolated by swollen rivers on several occasions.
“Rivers at present have receded from last week from the effects of ex-tropical Cyclone Imogen,” Mr Jayo said.
“But the country is that saturated and that sodden everywhere in both our upper and lower catchments that it’s not going to take a great deal of rain to get those river levels straight back up.”
Authorities urge people to prepare
Eleanor Rosam from the State Emergency Service said crews, including swiftwater rescue personnel, were on stand-by.
“Our largest concern is those areas between Cooktown and Cairns, so we’ve got crews on standby throughout that entire area. We have touched base with our crews on the Tablelands and the Cassowary Coast as well,” she said.
“We are all working together in this kind of an event.”
Ms Rosam urged Queenslanders in the Far North to get prepared before the worst of the weather hits and sets in on the coast.
“Look for any loose items in the garden, have a look at any low hanging branches around the house that can be easily taken down … go through your gutters, make sure they are all clear so that none of that floodwater backs up,” she said.
“Have a look for candles, matches, batteries, torches and just put them all in one place.”
Ms Rosam said it was important people checked on their neighbours in the coming days.
Ty Marega said Ergon Energy had 200 crews on standby in the areas expected to be hit in the next 24 hours.
He said once the cyclone set in, debris should be treated with caution as active powerlines could be difficult to spot.
Locals and tourists banding together
Douglas Shire Council Mayor Michael Kerr said residents and tourists were more than prepared.
“Locals who live here know what they need to do … we’ve gone through it many times before,” he said.
“Even with the people that are staying in hotels, all of these buildings are designed to cope with up to category three.”
Cr Kerr said council members and emergency services have been preparing the area since the announcement.
Sandbags have been available in the area since Saturday.
He said authorities were ready to launch evacuations if needed.
“We’re hoping we won’t need to evacuate people. The safest place for them is in their homes,” he said.
“I certainly hope that when it hits land it fizzles out and just becomes a couple of breaths of wind and there’s not that much damage and certainly no lives are at risk.”