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    Media Statements

    Coat of ArmsMedia Release
    Premier and Minister for the Arts
    The Honourable Anna Bligh


    Premier and Minister for the Arts
    The Honourable Anna Bligh

    Wednesday, February 02, 2011


    E & O E – PROOF ONLY





    2 FEBRUARY 2011



    Premier Anna Bligh: We’ve had very bad news overnight with news that Cyclone Yasi has escalated into a Category 5 cyclone. This is the most serious and destructive cyclone that you can have and it is continuing to make its way towards the Queensland coast. It has also sped up overnight and is now expected to make landfall sometime around 10pm. That means it will coincide with the high tide due around 9 o’clock tonight in these regions. This means the risk from storm surge has increased and that does mean that people do need to take evacuation orders seriously.

    The cyclone is moving slightly south again. It is now south of Innisfail and is expected, ah, continuing to expect that sometime between Cairns, somewhere between Cairns and Cardwell is the current most at-risk area.

    It is still a very, very significant and major rainfall event and we do expect to see a rainfall of not quite the metre that was contemplated but still up around the 700ml mark. It is expected to track now on a reasonably steady track. It’s not expected to make any significant deviations. It might go a little further south but as I said it’s not expected by the bureau to suddenly change direction. We do expect that this will now cross the coast and as I said in the areas that I outlined.

    Because this is now scheduled to arrive sometime around that 10pm area coinciding with a high tide, storm surge activity in those low lying coastal areas is going to occur and may be higher than had been expected, particularly in places south of where it hits the land. This means two things. Firstly, that there is still a window of opportunity for those people who live in areas that could be affected by storm surge. This means in low lying coastal waterfront areas, there is still an opportunity for you to move to a place of safety. I cannot say in strong enough terms, you have to take this window of opportunity now. It will close within the next three hours. If you live in an area that is subject to inundation from storm surge, the window of opportunity for you to get to a safer area is closing very quickly. Do not bother to pack bags. Just grab each other and get to a place of safety. Remember that people are irreplaceable.

    If you are not in one of those inundated areas, then the safest place for you to be now is in your home. Roads will begin to close over the next couple of hours. You should now be starting to bunker down in your home, and you can expect to start hearing and seeing gale-force winds sometime in the next two to three hours.

    We have been working with councils to let everybody know if they are in an affected area what they need to be doing. We have activated three state-wide SMS alerts to more than 200,000 people each time. These alerts have been complemented by council alerts in some places, and doorknocking has been continuing in many of these regions overnight and this morning.

    I want to reassure people that we are not only working at the moment on preparing for this event, we have a solid team of people preparing right now to be there for the aftermath of this event. Sometime in the next 24 hours, we will need to start deploying people in to see what we’ve got in front of us as a result of this event. So the Australian Defence Force have now activated a joint taskforce based in Townsville to coordinate the defence response to this event. They are currently out doorknocking in a number of regions as well. Emergency Services Queensland and Emergency Management have 125 additional fire and rescue personnel deployed in both Townsville and Cairns right now and they have charters booked to take emergency and rescue and SES people into the affected regions from Friday morning.

    When it comes to power, electricity, we are planning, Ergon is planning for an event that could see anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 customers in this region lose power during this event. They expect that we could see the impact come as far south as Mackay in relation to electricity supply. There will be 800 electrical workers on the ground from Saturday to make sure we are reconnecting as quickly as possible. Because this event has now escalated into a Category 5 event, we also need to understand that it will have the capacity to bring down transmission towers. This means that electricity supply could be seriously disrupted even in parts of regional Queensland that do not have the effects of the cyclone, and people need to be ready for that possibility.

    One of the major problems that we’re anticipating is telecommunication breakdown, and this means that we have both Optus and Telstra, major providers, working to have people on the ground as quickly as possible after the event. They have located additional technicians, generators and a satellite system in Mackay to transport quickly into restoring telecommunications and people’s mobile phone capacity as soon as possible after the event. There is also a temporary system staging in Mackay to go to evacuation centres so that people will be able to get communication as soon as possible. But remember, that may be a matter of some time.

    Major transport systems are now already being disrupted, all of the ports are closed, and as I said, in the next couple of hours we expect to see major arterial roads closing for safety reasons, as well as driving conditions becoming impossible. We have crews of road tech workers also staged in regional Queensland ready to go in to open up those arterial roads as soon as it’s possible to get into the affected area and to bring in additional fuel supplies.

    We’re also meeting with major retailers today to start contemplating the resupply strategies that we will need to ensure that people will have food and supplies into the affected area. The Cairns and Townsville airports are expected to close this morning with last flights out around 10am. All bus services in the region have been cancelled, but buses are being used to transport people to evacuation centres.

    Queensland Health has established multiple medical teams who are ready to deploy immediately into the cyclone area. They also have a portable hospital facility located in Townsville and there is another large portable hospital facility that’s located in Darwin and we’ve put them on alert that we may need to access their facility.

    We have 341 schools across this region closed today and they will be closed until at least the end of the week until further notice. Q-Build has 100 tradespeople who are ready to be deployed quickly to effectively start to reconstruct as soon as possible, and we have 500 police officers who have been put on alert to go into the affected region over the next three days as the storm subsides.

    Obviously, many people will lose power and they’ll lose telecommunications. So getting information to them is going to be a very important part of helping them manage this event. The ABC is the official broadcaster because of their extensive network in regional Queensland. ABC has located staff here at Emergency Services Headquarters in Brisbane to liaise with their network across Queensland and they have located a temporary transmitter in Cairns. We will be doing everything that we can to keep ABC bulletins going into radios and people should make sure that they have those radios with them as they bunker down in their houses.

    The next 24 hours is going to be, frankly, a very terrifying 24 hours for many of the people in the danger area. I think it’s important for me to say to people that many of you thankfully have done everything you can to prepare your homes and to prepare yourselves, to have the food, the batteries, etcetera, needed. Now is the time for people to prepare themselves and their families and their children mentally for what they are about to experience, particularly those who have not experienced cyclonic conditions before. You will expect to see and to hear winds of 280km an hour as we go into the evening tonight. This will create quite a lot of noise and you need to prepare for that. You can expect torrential rains, as I’ve said rainfall of more than 700 mls. This very, very heavy rainfall.

    It is very likely that electricity will be cut sometime through the day, and you will be going through this event this evening with no electricity and without telecommunications. As I’ve said, you need to prepare yourself mentally for what will be I think a very scary experience for many people.

    So I know that there are many communities right now in North and Far North Queensland who are facing a frightening and catastrophic event. To those people in our Far North, I know that for many of you right now you feel far away, and many of you no doubt feel very alone. But I think it’s important that we understand we are all in this together. When one part of Queensland hurts, every part of Queensland hurts. And just as the people of North Queensland were there for southern and central Queenslanders during the floods, we all stand ready to shoulder this burden with you, not just today but every day after this event.

    I’ve already had offers of help coming into my office from all around Queensland, from all around Australia and already from other parts of the world. You will not be going through this alone. We stand ready, we stand beside you and for the next day, I have to say I believe you are in the thoughts of every single Australian.

    Journalist: Premier, the tidal surge, the storm surge is that now back up to 4 metres (inaudible)

    Premier: It depends on the local geography of different parts of this region. We are for example anticipating storm surges in parts of Townsville of around 2.3 metres, but in places like Mourilyan, it could be as high as just over 4 metres. So we are probably the worst case scenario of about the 4 metre mark, but in most places more than 2 metres that we expect to see. It will be worse on the southern side of where the cyclone falls. So, again, it will depend exactly where it hits land and then the local geography. So councils are working on their worst case scenario maps and they are the areas that are being requested to evacuate.

    Journalist: And is Cairns still around the 2 metre surge expected there?

    Premier: Yes, at the moment this cyclone is now tracking south, slightly south of Cairns, so the storm surge issue is slightly less of a worry in Cairns this morning. But it does depend on exactly where that cyclone hits.

    Journalist: Ian, have police encountered any problems with the mandatory evacuation?

    Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart: No, um, and if there are some key messages that I’d like to give at this time, they are these. One, there is a very, very small window of opportunity for people in those low lying areas that are faced with the storm surge issue to get themselves out, get themselves to the evacuation centres which are being widely advertised. For people in other areas, the closer you are to where landfall of this cyclone hits, the closer you are, the longer the period of danger for you. We know that from about 12 o’clock today, the winds will be gale-force. That’s about 100km an hour and that makes movement outside driving on the streets quite dangerous. So from the areas closest to where the cyclone will cross the coast, um, it will be dangerous to move from that time.

    Now, that will extend for up to 24 hours until the winds then abate back to that level. So closest to that central point, we could have people affected effectively staying within their shelters for that period of time while it’s safe. So I would ask people to consider that, to consider what that means in terms of preparing themselves and their families and their neighbours for that period of time. It is very important that people start making those final preparations in their homes for those who are bunkering down in their homes out of the storm surge areas. They should be starting to prepare, to remain in the safest and strongest part of the house, which is basically the bathroom and the toilet area in most modern homes. They should be doing things like preparing mattresses. They should have foodstuffs with them, water, drinkable water. They should be thinking about having raincoats. They should be preparing themselves for the fact that the roofs of their houses may lift off. But that does not make the structure and the framework of the house any less sound. They might get wet, but it is far more dangerous to panic and run out of the house than to stay bunkered down in that area and simply get a bit wet. So people need to prepare for that sort of thing.

    Journalist: Are you still estimating the eye…

    Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart: Can I finish my clear messages? One of the key issues for us is that in that same 24 hour period or less, depending how far away you are from that eye, it will be impossible for the emergency services to respond to you because we need the emergency services personnel to remain safe as well so that when the storm has passed that they can do everything to support the community with the difficult situations they’re going to be faced with. So, people have to understand that they need to become first responders themselves to ensure the safety of their family, themselves and their neighbours. But please, please do not take unnecessary risks. That would be a tragedy. People need to understand that they have to have commonsense in their actions and their movements once we reach that gale-force level. And as I said, that’s going to be around about 12 o’clock today for the next 24 hours. And the wind and the events are going to get simply stronger right up until the time when the cyclone passes near you. And as we’ve indicated, that’s going to be around landfall about 9 or 10 o’clock tonight we expect.

    Journalist: Do you still expect the eye of the cyclone to last for an hour, and when will you have a specific location on where the eye will cross the coast?

    Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart: As time goes on today, we will even get a very, very more focused advice from the bureau of to exactly where that crossing point will be. At the moment, they are still advising us that’s an area from Cairns down to about Cardwell. But as we get that information obviously we’ll pass that on to the public and it will be timing and it will be the position as well.

    Premier: In relation to the eye, can I say the advice from the bureau is that the eye of this cyclone currently measures about 35km in diameter and it’s travelling at about 30km an hour. So yes, the eye of this storm will take at least an hour to pass. So if you are in your homes, going through what will be a very noisy, very difficult and quite frightening event, the worst thing you can do is walk out and think that it’s over, because at least about an hour later the storm will return will equal intensity and in fact go back to the heaviest part of its cyclonic winds. So quite a long period.

    Journalist: And just in terms of people who find themselves in their homes, should they be opening windows to relieve the pressure inside their house?

    Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart: Certainly the messages that we’ve always given and emergency services have always provided is that you can relieve pressure but it’s on the opposite side to the way that the wind is blowing and remember that that will change throughout the event. The actual wind, depending where you are geographically and where the storm is, the, obviously, the wind reverses as the eye passes, so that’s critical. But it would be very dangerous obviously to simply open up all your windows. That creates a greater risk to you and your family.

    If there was one more point I would like to make before further questions, road safety is absolutely critical. So if people are moving around right now in those areas, they need to be obeying the speeds, driving to the conditions because this wind is not something going to come on at 12 o’clock, this wind is gathering speed right now. So people need to be very much aware that the conditions for driving on the roads are getting more and more difficult as the day progresses, no matter where they are from about Mackay north. So they have to be particularly careful because we cannot afford for the precious resources of emergency services be diverted away to simple things like traffic crashes. So the community needs to help us and help themselves in this regard.

    Journalist: Premier, is there any chance of increased rainfall in the coming days in the Brisbane catchments, and if so, should Wivenhoe water be released ahead of time?

    Premier: All current advice from the bureau is that we don’t anticipate to see any of this rain into the Southeast, and in fact the current tracking has the rainfall event going further north than we had originally thought and that we could…I think it’s important to understand this cyclone will not only have cyclonic conditions right on the coast, but could still be Category 3 cyclone force out into the Tablelands and out into areas like Georgetown, into the west of the Cairns and Townsville region. And it will still be bringing very, very heavy, possibly flooding rainfall into places like Mount Isa and potentially the Northern Territory. So it’s much more going into the gulf and into those regions.

    Journalist: Premier, the hospital evacuations, are they all over (inaudible)

    Premier: What we saw overnight was a simply magnificent effort, a joint effort by Queensland Health, Queensland Ambulance, emergency workers and the Australian Defence Force. All patients have now left Cairns. I understand we might have one plane yet to land, but so far this event has gone without any incident in terms of protecting people’s health. This is the largest hospital evacuation ever undertaken in Australia’s history. We think this is the only one of this magnitude. It has been an exercise that has gone with military precision, and I take my hat off. We had Queensland Health and ambulance workers out there last night working, voluntarily in many cases because they were so concerned to make sure that the effort went smoothly. So we have for example in the government jet last night, there were seven heavily pregnant mothers who are now safely in hospital awaiting the birth of their babies. We had critically ill intensive care patients and we had renal and heart patients. They are now safely in Brisbane hospitals.

    I thank the Defence Force and I thank all of those… It was an absolutely remarkable effort and what I would like to say to the people in North and Far North Queensland, when you think of the size of that effort and you understand how critical and difficult it was and you see how smoothly it went, you can draw strength and confidence from that, what it tells you about the professionalism, the training and the capability of the people who are out there on the frontline to protect you. These people had never done this before and they’ve executed it absolutely perfectly and that’s the sort of service that they are going to give you in the next 24 hours and every day after that.

    Journalist: Premier, how many of those patients were intensive care (inaudible)

    Premier: I’m going to have to come back to you about how many were intensive care. But these were all people who required hospitalisation. Anybody who was able to be discharged was discharged and sent home to their families. So the only people, almost 250 patients, were those that were sick enough to require hospital care and many of those needing intensive care.

    Journalist: How many people have now been evacuated from their homes?

    Premier: (to Ian Stewart) Ah, do you have the registration list?

    Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart: No, I’m sorry, we don’t have those numbers right at this time. We know that we’ve had a huge surge in registrations of evacuees and people seeking evacuation centre placements this morning and I think that that will settle down around lunch time. We should be able to have figures for you after lunch.

    Premier: But we’ll never have absolutely precise or accurate figures because there are some people who have just gone up the hill to mum and dad’s and they won’t necessarily register. They’ve done the right thing, they’re out of their own home, they have evacuated, but we won’t necessarily capture all of that data. We will be able to tell you how many people are in evacuation centres. I understand that the Red Cross are currently accommodating about 1000 people in a number of centres in Cairns. I repeat that if you do not have… The best thing for you to do is to relocate with a family member, a friend or a workmate in safer ground if you are in a flood-prone area. If you are unable to do that, the number for you to ring is 1300 993 191, and you will get advice about the local provisions in your part of this region.

    Journalist: When will be the next weather update, Premier?

    Journalist: Have there been any bureau advice of any more cyclones?

    Premier: I have no further advice from the bureau about any other formation, of any cyclone forming anywhere near the coast of Queensland. However, I do remind everybody that we were advised by the Bureau of Meteorology late last year and we made it public at the time that we were in for an extraordinary storm season that could see up to six cyclones. Yasi is our third in five weeks. So there is still every possibility of further cyclones forming, and as soon as that happens, you’ll be the first to know. At the moment, the bureau tells me that there’s nothing on any of the official sites that indicates any other formations but of course you cannot eliminate the possibility that one could start forming tomorrow.

    Journalist: When will you give your next weather update?

    Premier: We will have updates for you throughout the day. The next round of modelling will be the last round of modelling before the cyclone hits will be at 5 o’clock this afternoon, but there will be continued tracking of this event I think it will be three-hourly through the rest of the day.

    Journalist: When will we see you again then?

    Premier: Um, I might talk to you about that. Okay?

    Journalist: Thanks.

    Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart: Can I also just say one further thing. Whilst a lot of the commentary has been about the large population centres right from Cairns down to Townsville and even lower down to Mackay. We haven’t forgotten the small communities, places with names like Cardwell, Palm Island, those sorts of communities -- we are working with the authorities in all of those places to make this as safe as possible for the entire community of Queensland in the northern part of the state. Thank you.

    Premier: Thank you.