Warning raised for Queensland coast as cyclone moves closer

Flood waters covering a street on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, yesterday as the brunt of Cyclone Oma approaches in the coming days.
Flood waters covering a street on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, yesterday as the brunt of Cyclone Oma approaches in the coming days.PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS

SYDNEY • Cyclone Oma, which hit the Pacific islands of Vanuatu and New Caledonia, is slowly heading towards the coast of Australia's Queensland state.

The storm, a destructive Category 2, could bring flooding, storm surges and strong winds within days to a large stretch of the coast, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said yesterday.

The bureau said the storm's exact path was unclear and, if it does make landfall, it could be anywhere from the central Queensland coast to as far south as the border with New South Wales state.

In the early hours of yesterday, Oma produced winds of up to 185kmh but has since weakened a little.

It is forecast to remain a Category 2 storm for the next few days, the bureau said.

It is currently far off the Australian coast, having passed New Caledonia, where high winds cut electricity, destroyed crops, downed trees and shuttered schools and businesses.

New Caledonia's Civil Security agency reported on Tuesday that around 3,000 people were without power and dozens of telecommunications towers were affected.

The storm also produced torrential rain in Vanuatu, where clean-up operations are under way.

"Severe tropical Cyclone Oma is expected to move slowly south-west over the Coral Sea during the next few days," the bureau said.

The storm is expected to bring "abnormally high tides" to parts of southern Queensland on Australia's east coast as it edges closer.

"A severe weather warning and hazardous surf warning are current," the bureau said.

Some areas have already been affected by the high tides, flooding some streets and cars along beaches.

Separately, oil has started leaking from a bulk carrier stranded on a coral reef near World Heritage-listed waters in the Solomon Islands, local villagers said yesterday.

The MV Solomon Trader ran aground on Feb 5 while loading bauxite at Rennell Island but heavy seas whipped up by Cyclone Oma have thwarted salvage attempts.

Locals said the 225m vessel was now starting to leak oil.

"We're starting to see a slick," Mr Derek Pongi told Agence France-Presse. "It's not that big but it's hard to tell because the weather's still rough."

Rennell Island, about 240km south of the capital Honiara, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world.

Mr Pongi said locals feared a major environmental disaster.

"The people here depend on the sea for all their needs," he said. "It would make life very hard for them."

While the ship was carrying bauxite, any such large vessel would also have considerable amounts of oil and fuel for its engines.

Island Sun News reported that the Hong Kong-flagged ship's owners, Bintan Mining, had flown in salvage experts from Australia and the United States.

Officials from neighbouring Australia said they were working with the Solomon Islands government to "hold the responsible company, owners and insurers to account in responding to this maritime incident".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2019, with the headline 'Warning raised for Queensland coast as cyclone moves closer'. Print Edition | Subscribe