Thousands flee Australia cyclone
Cyclone Hamish batters Great Barrier Reef islands, causing damage and flooding.
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2009 15:52 GMT
Queensland has been battling floods since December 2008, after a series of storms and cyclones [EPA]

Thousands of tourists and
residents have been evacuated from Australia's islands on the Great Barrier Reef, as a tropical cyclone battered the region, state officials said.

Evacuations were carried out on Sunday, following warnings from the weather bureau that Cyclone Hamish could cause substantial damage and flooding, with the
storm packing winds of up to 295kph.

Despite the Bureau of Meteorology downgrading Hamish to a category 4 storm, the second highest level, up to 3,000 people were evacuated from the popular tourist destination of Fraser Island, a spokesman for Queensland state's emergency services minister, said.

"They are being moved off the island by barge. The process has been under way most of the day," the spokesman said. He said evacuations were also planned for other islands.

Although the damage reported from the cyclone has so far been limited, Anna Bligh, Queensland's prime minister, has declared a "disaster situation" in response to the storm.

Sugar farmers in Queensland, who produce 95 per cent of Australia's sugar crop, are already facing substantial losses, battling floods since December 2008 after a number of storms and cyclones.

Thousands of cattle are also thought to have died in earlier flooding in the area.

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