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Cyclones to hit flood-weary Australia

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Jan 30, 2011
Flood-shattered Australia braced for further downpours on Sunday as two tropical cyclones hammered toward the devastated northeast, threatening further misery for already submerged towns.

Tropical Cyclone Anthony was intensifying as it closed in on Queensland state, where it was expected to make landfall on Sunday night near the northeastern city of Townsville, the weather bureau said.

Abnormally high tides were forecast along the coast along with intense rain and flooding to catchments already brimming from a deluge that hit vast areas of the state earlier this month, swamping tens of thousands of homes and killing 35 people.

"After the summer that's been you just think, 'Can any more cruel blows actually land on Queensland and the nation?' and unfortunately the answer seems to be yes," said Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

"We're all made of tough stuff and we'll get through this but this is another big cruel blow coming on top of what has been a summer of tragedy already."

An especially strong La Nina weather pattern is gripping Australia, bringing flooding rains and increasing the chance of cyclones due to cooler waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Record flooding devastated an area larger than France and Germany combined in mining and farming Queensland state earlier this month after Tropical Cyclone Tasha unleashed huge downpours which engorged rivers to bursting point.

Currently a category two cyclone, Anthony is expected to peak on Sunday evening and weaken as it makes landfall, with winds of up to 165 kilometres an hour (100 mph) and between 200 and 400 millimetres of rain.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the looming cyclones -- the second of which has been forecast to reach a severe category four by the time it makes landfall on Thursday -- could bring renewed flooding to already swamped towns.

"We are looking at not only a potentially damaging cyclone but more very heavy rainfall which... could fall into river catchments and cause further flooding beyond the cyclone," she said.

The last category four cyclone to strike northeastern Australia, Severe Tropical Cyclone Larry, wrought almost Aus$1 billion in damage in March 2006 and unleashed some of that region's heaviest flooding in decades.

Queensland weather chief Jim Davidson said the second cyclone, Yasi, would bring winds in excess of "several hundreds of kilometres" per hour and unleash rain over a large area, also whipping up severe storm tides.

Davidson said Cyclone Larry was the last time the region had faced such intense storms.

Bligh described Yasi as a "very disturbing weather pattern" and said authorities were preparing as best they reasonably could "for something of this size," insisting they were "battle ready not battle weary".

"This event has affected thousands of people, it's of a magnitude... way beyond anything any state of Australia has had to deal with," she said.

Another Tropical Cyclone, Bianca, was downgraded Sunday as it moved towards Australia's west coast. It was expected to dissipate by 2am Monday, and warnings were cancelled for towns in its path.

Meanwhile a wall of floodwater continued to inch across southeastern Victoria state, inundated earlier this month, where scorching weather offered some limited relief.

"Obviously it is beneficial in the sense that it may aid some evaporation of the floodwaters and maybe even slow the spread a little bit, but the water will still be coming," said emergency spokesman Lachlan Quick.

"We are talking about a record amount of water creeping through that area."

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