28 Mar 2017

Queensland's 5 worst cyclones

11:29 am on 28 March 2017

Torrential downpours and wind gusts of nearly 200 km/h are hitting the north Queensland coast as Cyclone Debbie nears land.

Coastal areas are on floodwatch with warnings that tidal surges up to 1.7m above the high tide level are possible. Tens of thousands of people in Mackay were warned seek higher ground or stay indoors.

Tropical cyclones have long posed a serious threat to Queensland coastal communities - often because of coastal flooding from tidal surges.

The aftermath of Cyclone Yasi at Tully, Queensland, in February 2011.

Tropical Cyclone Yasi, in February 2011, swept across towns and offshore islands on the the far north Queensland coast causing more than $A800m of damage. Photo: AFP

Here are five of Queensland's most devastating recorded weather events:

Mahina - March 4, 1899

Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Mahina is the deadliest in Australia's recorded history.

More than 400 people died when the storm system hit Princess Charlotte Bay, north of Cooktown on Cape York.

A 9-metre tidal surge left dead porpoises on clifftops, thrown there by the heavy swells.

It destroyed dozens of boats in local pearling fleets, killing about 100 ill-fated sailors and crew members.

Mahina caused a massive tidal surge, flooding the region and accounting for another 307 known fatalities on land.

The system was made worse because it intersected another weather system, dubbed Monsoonal Disturbance Nachon.

Mackay - January 21, 1918

About 10,000 residents lived in Mackay when category 4 Tropical Cyclone Mackay struck the north Queensland sugar town in 1918.

Thirty lives were lost when destructive winds tore buildings apart and drove a storm surge across the coast.

There were reports of waves 2m -3m high rolling into the main street.

All communication links to the town were wiped out and it was five days before the rest of the nation learned what had happened.

Innisfail - March 10, 1918

Less than two months after Mackay was hammered, category 5 Cyclone Innisfail hit the far northern town of Innisfail, claiming more than 100 lives.

There were 37 people killed in the town and another 40 to 60 people died in surrounding areas.

At the time, 3500 people lived in Innisfail, but after the cyclone only 12 houses remained standing. The rest were blown flat or torn to pieces, according to newspaper reports from the time.

Larry - March 20, 2006

Almost 90 years later, Innisfail copped it again when Severe Tropical Cyclone Larry crossed the far north Queensland coast as a category 4 system.

The Bureau of Meteorology said Cyclone Larry was small in size, about 200km across, but rated as the strongest event in that area for three generations.

Larry damaged 10,000 homes in the region and hit farmers hard - between Babinda and Tully, damage to infrastructure and crops was estimated to top $A500 million.

The Federal Government put the damage bill at $A1.5 billion.

On the positive side, no lives were lost and no serious injuries were reported.

Yasi - February 3, 2011

The massive category five Tropical Cyclone Yasi crossed the far north Queensland coast near Mission Beach very early in the morning on February 3, 2011, bringing peak wind gusts estimated at 285 m/h.

The impact zone spanned several towns and neighbouring islands, destroying homes, shredding crops and smashing marinas and resorts as it roared ashore.

Because it was such a large and powerful system, Yasi maintained considerable intensity as it tracked inland, finally weakening to a tropical low near Mount Isa in north-west Queensland, almost 1,000km inland and more than 20 hours after it crossed the coast.

The damage bill exceeded $A800 million.


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