Cyclone Debbie: ‘Monster’ storm reaches Australian islands

Media captionQueensland prepares for imminent arrival of Cyclone Debbie

A cyclone carrying winds of up to 263km/h (163 mph) has battered popular holiday islands as it moves towards the coast of Queensland, Australia.

More than 25,000 people were urged to evacuate ahead of Cyclone Debbie, a category four storm now predicted to reach the mainland about 14:00 local time (04:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

About 23,000 homes have already lost power, and there are reports of damage.

Authorities said it would be the area’s worst storm since Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the storm’s “very destructive core” had already reached the Whitsunday Islands.

“We’re getting reports of roofs starting to lift, even in some of our own facilities in the Whitsundays,” said Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski.

One person in the region compared the winds to “freight trains coming through left and right”.

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Cyclone Debbie could be the most powerful storm to hit the area since Cyclone Yasi in 2011

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AFP/Getty Images

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Storm clouds gather in the town of Ayr, 775 miles (1,248km) north of Brisbane, Queensland

“The trees are going wild. The place is just shaking continuously,” the man, identified only as Charlie, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Electricity providers said more homes would lose power once the cyclone made landfall.

Test of endurance

Forecasters have twice delayed predictions of when the slow-moving storm will make landfall.

It is now predicted to cross the coast somewhere south of Bowen and remain over Queensland for hours.

“We are in for a long, tough day,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“The intensity and ferocity of the winds is going to be gradually increasing. Everyone is bunkered down.”

View from Townsville – Hywel Griffith, BBC News

What is normally a bustling gateway to the Great Barrier Reef has ground to a halt in preparation. Forecasts suggest Townsville may not be hit directly by the storm’s core, but winds have already picked up and no-one is taking chances.

Most businesses have shut up shop – some have sandbags lining the doorway. The few coffee shops that have opened are doing a roaring trade. Lines of police officers and firefighters are getting a heavy dose of caffeine to prepare for the long day and night ahead.

Many tourists seem to have moved on, or cancelled their visit completely – one hotelier told me they had lost thousands of dollars in bookings.

Even if Townsville is spared the worst of Cyclone Debbie, it is already feeling the impact.

Ms Palaszczuk described the storm as “a monster” and compared it to Cyclone Yasi, which had devastated towns and flooded evacuation centres.

She said Monday’s emergency evacuation order was “probably the largest ever” for the north-eastern state.

In other key developments:

  • Forecasters said the tidal surge would now be less than 2m (6ft), and no longer coincide with high tide
  • However, authorities warned there would still be flooding in low-lying areas
  • The region is expected to be hit with 150-500mm of rain on Tuesday
  • Police warned people to beware of fallen powerlines, which could be deadly
  • Emergency stockpiles of food and fuel have been set aside, and the army is on standby

Ms Palaszczuk said that shelters had been made available on higher ground for those with nowhere else to go.

More than 2,000 emergency workers are also on standby, but people have been warned crews will only respond when it is safe to do so.

Some residents refused to leave despite warnings that Cyclone Debbie’s destructive core could be as wide as 62 miles (100km).

Queensland authorities have closed 181 schools and 232 early childhood education centres.

All flights have been cancelled at Townsville Airport and Mackay Airport.

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the weather contributed to the death of a woman in a car crash on Monday.

Cyclones and hurricanes: Different names for same thing

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Bureau of Meteorology

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A satellite image shows Cyclone Debbie

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Getty Images

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Queensland is preparing for a destructive cyclone

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