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Resort 'stopped staff leaving' ahead of cyclone

Cassie White, Thursday February 3, 2011 - 13:10 EDT

Relatives of a woman who is stranded on tiny Bedarra Island, off Mission Beach in north Queensland, spent last night terrified for her safety as monster Cyclone Yasi battered the region.

Jacqueline Steward is one of 22 employees of the Bedarra Island Resort, who spent last night bunkered down on the island after they were seemingly not allowed to evacuate ahead of the devastating storm.

Yasi slammed ashore near Mission Beach around midnight, ripping roofs off houses, shredding trees and leaving widespread destruction in its wake.

Jacqueline's sister, Greer Nagle, told ABC News Online Jacqueline was terrified before the category five cyclone hit, and staff were doing everything they could to protect themselves.

"Jacqui left me a voice message about 6.00am yesterday and she was pretty distraught," she said.

"To quote her she was 'pretty shit-scared' and very angry that she was still on the island.

"I managed to get hold of her an hour later on the phone and she was in better spirits, but concerned about why they hadn't been evacuated."

Guests at the luxury resort were evacuated ahead of the cyclone and watercraft were apparently secured, leaving no way for staff to leave.

"From what I know there were two guests on the island on Monday and they were evacuated," Ms Nagle said.

"Then on Monday afternoon Jacqui told me that all the boats were locked down. Every time she spoke to me since then she kept saying 'we can't get off, we can't get off.'"

A company spokesperson said staff were being housed in four concrete bunkers, but Ms Nagle says she was told a completely different story.

"What I understand is that management of the company, who are based in Victoria, said there were four underground bunkers and staff were being housed in those," she said.

"But from every conversation myself and my parents had with my sister, they were definitely being housed in five rooms in staff quarters.

"They were elevated ... and when it hit there were going to be 10 people in each bathroom."

A spokesperson for Hideaway Resorts, that also runs the resort on Dunk Island, says the company CEO is currently visiting both islands to assess damage and so far there have been no reports back other than that everyone is safe.

The resort did not return the ABC's calls but Ms Nagle says the decision to stay on the island was made when Cyclone Yasi was still category three, and there was no indication that staff were free to evacuate if they chose to.

"They had meetings three times a day on Monday and Tuesday and again the decision was made not to move them," she said.

"Management have come back ... saying the staff were given a choice to leave but I don't know if that was the case.

"As my sister said to me on Facebook chat at about 12:30pm yesterday, 'why would I choose to stay where there's a category five cyclone about to hit?'"

Mr Nagle received a text message this morning from Jacqueline saying everyone is safe, but she had a sleepless night. Her parents were both also in the path of Yasi. Her father in Townsville received treatment for a serious illness.

"I got a little bit of sleep but it wasn't the best night ever having parents in Townsville and a sister on the island," she said.

"At midnight I was watching the news and that was when it was hitting Mission Beach and everything I'd feared in the past 48 hours had come true, so it was a pretty terrifying wait for me and my parents in particular.

"They wouldn't evacuate Townsville because they wanted to be close to her in case something happened.

"I don't want to cause problems for the resort ... but at the same time I couldn't stand by and think people were potentially putting my sister's life at risk for no reason."


© ABC 2010

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