Australia

Queensland Cyclone Owen: Powerful system may 'wreak havoc'

A car travels drives through heavy rain in Australia Image copyright EPA
Image caption Australia's east coast has been pummelled by heavy rain in recent days

Australian authorities have issued a warning about a powerful cyclone that is tracking towards the coast of Queensland.

Cyclone Owen is moving slowly over waters off the Northern Territory with winds of up to 200km/h (124mph), meteorologists said.

It is expected to intensify into a category four system before making landfall sometime early on Saturday local time (late on Friday GMT).

Residents have been urged to stay safe.

"Owen will wreak havoc across our state and come down the east coast," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Seven network on Friday.

Emergency services have sent dozens of extra personnel to towns along the expected path of the cyclone.

"Tonight, bed down and stay safe, take your medication with you, a torch and make sure you have a really good idea of a place of safety," state disaster co-ordinator Bob Gee said.

'Damaging to destructive winds'

Forecasters predict the cyclone will travel from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Queensland's east coast, bringing destructive winds inland for hundreds of kilometres.

"Cyclone Owen is now likely to cross the Queensland coast on the western Cape York Peninsula later than initially anticipated, most likely early Saturday morning before moving in a southeasterly direction, rapidly weakening over land," Richard Wardle of the Bureau of Meteorology said.

"While the system will weaken to a low over land, damaging to destructive winds will continue for several hundred kilometres inland as will areas of very heavy rainfall near the low," he explained.

The bureau said a flood watch remained for the area extending from the Gulf of Carpentaria and southern Cape York Peninsula to coastal catchments from Cape Tribulation to Rainbow Beach.

The coastal stretch includes popular tourist destinations of Cairns, Townsville and Rockhampton, many of which are gateways to the Great Barrier Reef.

Parts of the state were likely to receive up to 400mm of rain in coming days, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said.

Authorities warned that flash-flooding and storm surges were also expected, urging residents to secure items and stay indoors.

The cyclone is forecast to be downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves inland, but could redevelop into a cyclone on Monday.

Australia frequently experiences extreme weather with flash floods, sandstorms and droughts in some areas.

Last month, Queensland was hit by destructive bushfires which forced the evacuation of thousands of people.