Cyclone Debbie: Thousands flee as Australia braces for 'monster' storm

Elias Hubbard
April 1, 2017

More than 100mm of rain is expected to fall in 24 hours in parts of the Northern Ranges and Slopes regions and parts of the Mid North Coast.

Although the storm was moving slower than first predicted, it is still the most powerful to hit the tropical state of Queensland since Cyclone Yasi destroyed homes and crops and devastated island resorts in 2011.

It has since been downgraded to a tropical low but the Bureau of Meteorology still warned of damaging wind gusts with "intense" rain, sparking flooding fears as river levels rise.

Hoteliers hundreds of kilometres away at Cairns and Rockhampton were seeing cancellations for upcoming Easter holidays and operators anxious that bad press would prolong the recovery, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said.

Theme parks and beaches in the area were closed for the day.

There was also serious damage to resorts on the idyllic Whitsunday Islands, a popular tourist destination, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. "A number of rescues undertaken & still being undertaken", Queensland police tweeted.

Ms Palaszczuk said extra emergency services staff had been sent across the region and a decision would be made on Sunday whether to close schools. Before the cyclone hit, thousands of people moved to higher ground, out of the area or to safe refuges.

Strong winds also lashed Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Bowen late in the afternoon.

Telephone lines remain down, with power outages still in effect for nearly 50,000 people between the towns of Bowen and Mackay, and in the regions north and south of Airlie Beach, the publication reports.

Some 3,500 people have been evacuated between the towns of Home Hill and Proserpine, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Townsville, a tourist hotspot and access to the Great Barrier Reef. Daydream Island Resort said it sustained significant damage, including to its jetty and accommodation wings.

"It's looking promising in terms of being able to rebuild promptly with most of the major infrastructure intact", Queensland state police deputy commissioner Steve Gollschewski told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

Jacqui McCullagh, who was staying on Hamilton Island, said the once-lush area was in a bad way. At least four trees had been smashed to pieces.

The Australian Defence Force has mobilised soldiers, vehicles, aircraft and other resources to respond to Debbie, which the Insurance Council of Australia has already declared a "catastrophe".

If current predictions hold, meteorologist Kev Hutchins said Roma, Miles, Chinchilla and Dalby could expect a wet Thursday with rainfalls in the vicinity of 50-70 millimetres.

Power was cut for 48,000 people in a wide area between the towns of Bowen and Mackay, north and south of Airlie Beach, Ergon Energy spokesman John Fowler said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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