As dawn breaks, very heavy rain and high winds from Cyclone Debbie continue to pound large areas of central Queensland.
During the day rescue crews hope they will be able to enter the regions worst affected by yesterday’s 260km/h winds, rain dumps and flooding.
Two men have been reported missing after their yacht ran aground on rocks near the Whitsunday Islands last night.
Overnight the Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning for the Central Coast, Central Highlands and Coalfields, Capricornia and parts of the Central West and Maranoa and Warrego districts.
The heaviest rainfall is expected from Springsure to Yepoon. The system could bring major flooding to Ayr and towns along the New South Wales border as it moves south later in the week.
Damaging winds, with peak gusts of around 120km/h, are occurring in the area, particularly about the coast and islands and also over higher ground inland.
However the bureau downgraded Debbie to a tropical low, bringing sustained winds of 55km/h with gusts of up to 85km/h.
At its most ferocious the cyclone downed trees, stripped buildings and left shorelines swamped after making landfall at midday yesterday near Airlie Beach. Some 50,000 homes are without power.
Queensland’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and police commissioner Ian Stewart issued grave warnings to residents.
Palasczuk said the state would be dealing with the impact of the “scary” cyclone for the next three to five days as it moved down the coast.
“I think there is going to be a lot of shock and awe in the morning,” she said late last night.
Stewart said conditions were still too dangerous for police, defence force and emergency services to operate in many areas between Bowen and Mackay.
“The loss of power, the loss of phone connectivity means that there could be people right now who are in difficult and dangerous and tragic situations – we just don’t know about it,” he said.
He said one Proserpine man was hurt badly by a collapsing wall and had been taken to the local hospital.
“I think that we will also receive more reports of injury, if not deaths,” Stewart said. “We need to be prepared for that.”
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Inspector Mark Halverson said crews were still assessing the damage but Proserpine and Shute Harbour were among the worst affected.
Rescue crews moved into the area for the cyclone were still in lockdown.
Three helicopters would help specialist crews in 4WD vehicles today.
“Their main role will be to identify what we would call potentially lost communities – small groups of houses that may be completely lost, may not have communication and we can’t take any chances that they’re left unattended,” Halverson said.
While Townsville escaped and Mackay was spared the worst, the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach copped the full brunt. Whitsundays councillor John Collins said the wind was “like a jumbo jet on my roof”.
Communications are a major problem for the rescue crews and stranded residents. The two major phone providers have outages in the Whitsunday, North Mackay and Airlie Beach regions.
Communications were also down on South Molle Island, Dingo Beach, Mackay Harbour, Mount Mary, Cannonvale, Wulguru and Hayman Island.
Palaszczuk said the loss of communications was a big problem. “We don’t know how many people are injured, what’s the condition of people’s homes,” she said.
Energy Minister Mark Bailey said power would likely be out for several days in some areas.
“Restoration crews will work to restore power as soon as possible once safe access is possible when flood waters recede from roadways and debris is cleared,” he said.