A CYCLONE on a par with the hurricane that almost destroyed New Orleans is threatening to wreak havoc along a vast stretch of the Queensland coast.
Thousands of residents and holidaymakers - including many Victorians - were today evacuated from Fraser Island and other tourist resorts as central Queensland braced for the full impact of Cyclone Hamish.
The weather bureau predicts the cyclone will hammer the state with wind gusts up to 260km/h.
It said Hamish would bring storm tides, destructive wind, heavy rain and flooding to southeast Queensland by Tuesday night.
Weather bureau regional director Jim Davidson said tomorrow was shaping up as the probable moment of truth for Queenslanders.
He said although it had been a "very well-behaved cyclone", tracking parallel to the Queensland coast for 48 hours, Hamish was also "small, compact and very intense" and on a par with Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into New Orleans.
Forecasters warned if the cyclone crossed the coast it could be as destructive as Cyclone Larry, the category five system that wreaked havoc on far north Queensland in March 2006.
Victorians at Whitsunday resorts yesterday told how they had endured a tense night waiting for the cyclone to strike.
Hawthorn nurse Steve Dashwood, working on Hayman Island, said the island was buffeted by wind up to 280km/h early on Sunday morning, reaching its peak about 3am.
"Luckily there was no damage. There was widespread tree damage, but no reported injuries," Mr Dashwood said.
Yesterday, the island was still under siege from strong wind and choppy seas but the main threat had passed.
In Mackay, truck driver Jamie Lewis, formerly of Ararat, said the supermarkets had been cleaned out of non-perishable food.
"Coles have sold out of canned food and water. Everyone was going berserk," Mr Lewis said. "At the moment, there's a lot of rain. There's a bit of flooding."
Mr Lewis said he had removed garden ornaments from his yard and taped windows.
"We've got a room in the middle of the house that is cyclone proof," he said. "Most people have got water, food, first aid kits and torches."
Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said up to 1000 campers and 2000 residents and resort guests were evacuated from Fraser Island, which was severely damaged by Cyclone Dinah in 1967.
Mr Davidson said yesterday the Yeppoon to Gladstone coastal strip was the area now at risk with gale force wind likely to hit this morning.
By tonight the cyclone was expected to be in the Lady Elliott and Heron islands area, which were also evacuated yesterday.
"The majority of our computer models suggest it will be in the vicinity of Hervey Bay by Tuesday night, and if that scenario eventuates we'll see a fairly significant storm tide as well as destructive wind, heavy rain and flooding," Mr Davidson said.
Premier Anna Bligh said the evacuation was proceeding smoothly and people were moving off their campsites and taking their vehicles to get off the southern end of the island.
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