Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands are being lashed by 190km/h winds as Cyclone Debbie bears down on the state. It’s already cut power, snapped trees and sent roofing iron tumbling down the streets of mainland towns, while 25,000 residents of Mackay have been told to leave their homes.
Residents in the 600km danger zone face a very long day, with the cyclone now not expected to cross the coast until 1pm (Queensland time), five hours later than originally expected. The cyclone will likely take six hours to pass through the worst affected regions.
But that’s good news because landfall will no longer coincide with the 9.44am high tide – something that could save many homes from flooding in low-lying communities.
The vast storm is expected to cross the coast just south of Bowen, the midpoint of the danger zone that stretches from Lucinda in the north to St Lawrence in the south.
The cyclone is the worst to hit Queensland since the devastating Yasi six years ago.
Debbie’s might is on full display on Hamilton Island, the Whitsundays’ resort off Airlie Beach, where 190km/h gusts are shaking cyclone-proof buildings.
“It’s just like freight trains coming through, left and right,” one stranded worker, identified only as Charlie, told ABC radio, when Debbie was still 75km away.
On the mainland, residents from Bowen, south to Airlie Beach, Proserpine, Mackay and Sarina say weather conditions have deteriorated.
Police say there have been no reports of injuries across the cyclone danger zone so far.
“In Bowen and Whitsunday, everything is locked down. People have to be inside. Our officers and emergency services have withdrawn. They cannot respond any more in that area.
“In Mackay, people should be off the road now. We have some capacity to respond at the moment, if needed but that will not last for very long.”
Electricity has been lost in some communities, and heavy rain has been lashing the north Queensland coast since Monday.
Residents of Airlie Beach report they are seeing conditions rapidly deteriorate, with some locals saying roofing iron has already been lost.
At nearby Proserpine, one resident said conditions had become scary.
“It’s frightening. The trees are laying over and the wind… if this is halfway there, goodness, when it’s fully here it’s going to be devastating,” she told ABC radio.
A reporter at Airlie Beach said the wind continued to increase throughout Monday night.
Large gusts with the occasional howling noise were quickly followed by an eerie silence, before the wind started up again a few minutes later.
Alarms at the hotel rang on and off throughout the night, but were gradually drowned out as the wind increased.
The latest tracking map from the weather bureau still suggests an almost direct hit on Bowen.
As well as cyclone damage, authorities are also planning for flooding, which is considered likely as Debbie crosses the coast and degenerates into a rain depression.
Up to 500mm of rain, could fall in some parts of north Queensland.
Major flooding is considered likely in some catchments from as early as Tuesday. Flood watches are in place for for the Ross, Bohle and Black Rivers, Bluewater Creek, Haughton, Lower Burdekin, Don, Proserpine and Pioneer rivers.
As the rain moves across the interior, catchments that could see from flooding form Wednesday include the Fitzroy, upper Burdekin and Belyando, upper Flinders, upper Thomson and upper Barcoo rivers.
We will have more on this story as it unfolds.