February 07, 2007 11:56am
A HELICOPTER is rescuing 10 people from a barge swamped by heavy seas caused by tropical Cyclone Nelson in the Gulf of Carpentaria off north Queensland.
The category two storm crossed the coast near Gilbert River Mouth about 5am (AEST) today, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
A cyclone warning was current this morning for coastal and island communities from Karumba to Pormpuraaw, extending inland to Palmerville. An earlier cyclone warning for communities between Burketown and Karumba was cancelled.
The MV Wunma, based at Karumba on the gulf, sent out a distress signal about 10.30pm (AEST) yesterday after taking on water and having engine problems as the cyclone hit.
The stricken 113m vessel, owned by mining company Zinifex, is carrying about 5000 tonnes of zinc concentrate and is about 45km off the coast of Karumba.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said an attempt to drop water pumps to the stranded crew had been unsuccessful as the crew had been unable to retrieve them from the heavy seas.
"The heavy seas are causing the boat to list quite heavily," she said.
The rescue helicopter was preparing to winch the crew to safety and transfer them to a Chinese ship, Eastern Star, which is about five nautical miles from the Wunma.
Nelson is expected to weaken today as it crosses the few hundred kilometres of Cape York Peninsula, but the bureau says it will re-intensify tomorrow when it moves into the Coral Sea.
Cyclones in the area have a history of criss-crossing the peninsula, regaining strength each time they pass into the gulf or the sea.
Destructive winds gusts to 140km/h are occurring near the centre of the cyclone.
The bureau said people in the path of the cyclone between Karumba and Pormpuraaw and inland to Palmerville should stay calm and remain in a secure shelter while the destructive winds continue.
They have been told to follow any directions from police or State Emergency Service personnel.
Coastal residents between Pormpuraaw and Karumba have also been specifically warned of the dangerous storm tide.
Nelson is expected to cause further flooding in parts of north Queensland - between Mackay and Cairns - just starting to recover monsoonal flooding.
Innisfail and Tully were still flooded, while Burketown, below the Gulf of Carpentaria, was isolated by flood waters.
The threat from a second storm off Cairns, that looked like becoming a cyclone, has dissipated, the bureau said