Bargara shopping centre suffered serious damage in the storm. Photo: Courtesy: Bundaberg NewsMail
PARTS of Queensland have been declared a disaster zone after one coastal town was battered by a mini-tornado and others begin mass evacuations in the face of unprecedented rain over the next 24 hours.
On Saturday, airlines began cancelling flights to and from the Gold Coast, possibly leaving travellers stranded at the end of the long weekend and school holidays as ex-tropical cyclone Oswald moved down the coast.
A mini-tornado that lashed the coastal town of Bargara, north-east of Bundaberg, left up to 17 people injured, including a man and a woman who were critically hurt when their car was struck by a tree.
State Emergency Services Minister Jack Dempsey, who lives in Bundaberg, said 150 homes were damaged in a tornado at Burnett Heads.
In Gladstone, about 2000 people were preparing to evacuate. A major flood warning was issued as the Boyne River was expected to swell to one-in-100-year levels.
Premier Campbell Newman said water levels were almost five metres over one major dam wall, but the biggest cause for alarm was a saddle dam downstream from the main dam, which, if broken, would certainly flood about 500 homes.
''That's a big concern … it would be a significant amount of water going into the creek and affecting a lot of people,'' he said. ''People need to absolutely and immediately heed any warnings given by authorities when it comes to evacuations. If you're told to get out, please just do it.''
The Premier said Bureau of Meteorology projections raised concern about potential flooding in areas further south on the Burnett River and towns on the Mary River, such as Maryborough.
Meanwhile, Brisbane is on standby for the worst flooding since the disaster of 2011. Massive rain predicted for south-east Queensland was expected to cause localised creek flooding in the Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast areas, Mr Newman said.
Extremely heavy rainfall, storm tides and Wivenhoe Dam releases put low-lying areas at risk.
The Premier pleaded for calm from the public, and said he was ''determined'' it would not be a repeat of the January 2011 floods.
''This event is very different to two years ago … but let us plan for the worst-case scenario. We need the public to be informed and take precautions. But I want everyone to know that everyone is working around the clock to protect our communities,'' he said.
Water would continue to be released from the Wivenhoe Dam, Mr Newman said.
The government came under harsh scrutiny over the handling of dam operations in 2011, which contributed to the flooding that inundated parts of the city.
Virgin Australia and Qantas have cancelled several flights on Sunday to and from the Gold Coast.
Both airlines were attempting to contact affected passengers via text message, but also encouraged people to check the websites for updates.
Qantas tweeted that a number of services were likely to be affected until Monday and recommended customers re-book either another time or to a different destination.
Both companies have advised passengers can make alternative arrangements without penalty.
A spokeswoman for Tiger Airlines said there were no cancellations.
Jetstar did not announce any disruptions at the time of going to print.