Residents of northern Australia batten down homes, businesses ahead of Tropical Cyclone Kirrily

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Residents have begun battening down homes and businesses with Tropical Cyclone Kirrily forecast to cross the Australian northeast coast on Thursday, bringing destructive winds and flooding rain. Authorities said the storm system was still tracking west across the Coral Sea and that gusts of 140 kph (87 mph) were forecast as the cyclone crossed the mainland on Thursday night.

“It’s still making a pretty direct track for Townsville, but it is picking up speed along with its strength as well,” Miriam Bradbury from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday. The Bureau said the cyclone would bring intense rainfall that could cause “dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding,” and storm tides between Townsville and Mackay which would exacerbate flooding.

More than 100 schools in the affected region were closed on Thursday, the Queensland state government said, while several Australia Day national holiday celebrations scheduled for Friday had been cancelled. Several airlines have cancelled their flights to and from Townsville and Hamilton Island, and Queensland Rail services north of Rockhampton had been suspended in anticipation of the severe weather.

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Residents and guests of the popular tourist destination of Hamilton Island have been asked to stay indoors as the cyclone passes. A community refuge center had been opened on the island to provide shelter. The storm system is expected to move into inland regions of Queensland from Friday, bringing heavy rain and increased likelihood of flooding.

The Queensland government said extra emergency services crews, specializing in flood rescues, have also been deployed, but residents still needed to prepare. “We’re prepared and ready for the worst, now we wait and hope for the best,” Queensland state premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane.

“Our message to Queenslanders is now is the time to make sure that you’re ready,” he said. “Make sure your emergency kit is stocked. Make sure that you have enough essential items to potentially have to get through days without power.” It’s the second cyclone in as many months to hit the region, which was lashed in December by Tropical Cyclone Jasper, the first tropical cyclone of the Australian season, which spans the hot southern hemisphere months of November to April.