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“David and Goliath” cyclones bear down on Queensland

An infra-red image shows Cyclone Anthony bearing down on the Queensland coast, with a large tropical depression off Vanuatu expected to develop into another, more devastating cyclone. Photo: US National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information ServiceThe two cyclones bearing down on the Queensland coast could be a case of “David and Goliath”, with the second system expected to be bigger and more devastating, Premier Anna Bligh said today.

Cyclone Anthony intensified to a category-two system just before 2pm today and is expected to cross the coast near Ayr, in north Queensland, between 11pm tonight and 1am tomorrow (local time).

The cyclone is at present 360 kilometres east of Townsville, with a warning zone currently stretching along the coast from Cardwell to Sarina, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

However, the bureau is more worried about another intense tropical low near Vanuatu, which is expected to develop into a cyclone, named Yasi, and potentially cross the Queensland coast on Thursday morning.

The prospect of two cyclones crossing the coast within four days of each other comes after three quarters of Queensland was declared a disaster zone in the wake of devastating flooding.

Ms Bligh described the two cyclones as “David and Goliath”, with Cyclone Anthony expected to be “quite smaller than the second event”.

She said Anthony would make landfall overnight.

“This is a system that is likely to bring with it rainfall of 200 to 300 mm but could have 400mm in parts,” she said.

She said Anthony should not be underestimated, with wind gusts of more than 120km/h likely and damage expected.

Evacuation centres would be ready to take people after the cyclone struck land, but the safest place for people was to remain in their homes and secure loose items, she said.

“Today is a day to batten down the hatches,” she said.

Ms Bligh said authorities had “very serious concerns” about the second low-pressure system, expected to form into a tropical cyclone today and bring with it “very significant gale force winds”.

A cyclone watch for the second system was likely to be issued tomorrow, she said.

It was likely to make landfall by Thursday morning, 12 hours earlier than initially predicted, she said.

“The second system is a very large system; it is a very large rainfall system as well as potentially a very significant cyclone,’’ Ms Bligh said.

‘‘So we’re looking at not only a potentially damaging cyclone but more very heavy rainfall, depending on where it falls, which could fall into river catchments and cause further flooding beyond the cyclone,’’ she said.

Ms Bligh said despite the recent devastating flooding that tested emergency resources, authorities were well-rested and ready to respond to the latest cyclone events.

“We are not battle weary, we are battle ready,” she said.

Ms Bligh said the Abbot Point coal terminal had closed, Hay Point was about to close, Townsville ferry operations had ceased, and the Sunlander rail service to and from Cairns had been cancelled.

In Townsville, shelters had been opened for homeless people and caravan park residents.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Jim Davidson said Cyclone Anthony was expected to develop into a category two system by 2pm local time today.

“The destructive winds could be up to 140km/h,” he said.

Mr Davidson said the gale force winds may be felt to an extent of 140 or 150 kilometres, while the gales associated with the second system could extend 300 or 400 kilometres.

The second system would bring more raise and create a “storm tide threat”.

Mr Davidson said it would be very large area of impact but it was too early to predict its intensity.

He said the system was still far off the Queensland coast to accurate predict where it would cross the coast.

However, landfall could potentially occur anywhere between Cooktown in far north Queensland and Hervey Bay, a 1500-kilometre stretch of coast, Mr Davidson said.

“It’s not inevitable [that the cyclone will cross the coast] but there’s a good likelihood that we will see a fairly large system on the Queensland coast by Thursday,” he said.

“The models have been absolutely consistent now for some days in generating a tropical disturbance … and moving it westward across the Queensland coast.”

He said forecasting models, which were becoming more sophisticated, were picked up the system four or five days ago.

“It’s quite unusual to have a forecast this far out,” he said.

“It doesn’t happen very often and I guess that’s why we’re taking it very seriously.”

Ms Bligh added: “This is a very disturbing weather pattern.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the prospect of the two cyclones hitting Queensland so soon after the state was devastated by widespread floods as “cruel”.

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