CYCLONE DEBBIE: POLICE FEAR FATALITIES WITH EXTENT OF DAMAGE UNCLEAR...

Queensland’s premier described Cyclone Debbie as ‘incredibly scary’ and said the state would be feeling its impact for up to five days. Photograph: Bureau of Meteorology/EPA

 

Slow-moving category-four storm hits Australia’s north-east but it will be at least a day before destruction can be assessed...

Queensland’s police commissioner has warned people to prepare for the possibility of deaths from Cyclone Debbie, the category-four storm that struck the eastern coast of Australia on Tuesday.

The scale of destruction was yet to emerge on Tuesday evening amid reports of severe damage to homes and communities cut off from communications.

'Like a jumbo jet on my roof': Cyclone Debbie hits north-east Australia – as it happened...

The destructive core of the cyclone hit the coast near Airlie Beach about midday local time after wreaking havoc on the Whitsunday tourist islands, where winds blew up to 263km/h and ripped roofs off houses.

There were fears of major damage on the mainland at Proserpine and police warned there could be casualties from the slow-moving cyclone.

Fears of damage from a storm surge in Mackay at the southern edge of of the watch zone faded as Debbie was downgraded to a category-three storm about 4pm.

But the Queensland government, after days of preparations including forced evacuations of some areas, remained on a disaster footing, with weather experts warning that the cyclone could take until Wednesday to dissipate.

The state’s premier and police commissioner both issued warnings. “We are going to get lots of reports of damage and sadly I think we will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths,” said the commissioner, Ian Stewart. “We need to be prepared for that.”

The state’s premier, Annastacia Palazszczuk, said it would be an “incredibly scary moment” for residents.

“We’re going to see the impact of Cyclone Debbie for the next three to five days as it travels down the coast and these winds can even end up as a low-pressure system right along the coast of south-east corner here,” she said.

A man in Proserpine had been “hurt badly” by a collapsing wall, Stewart said. He said authorities were bracing for the full picture of injuries to emerge from communities that had been cut off from communications.

In Bowen, where much of the local housing was built before cyclone safety standards were introduced in the 1980s, the cyclone wrecked homes and caused “major environmental damage”, Whitsunday regional councillor Mike Brunker said.

“The last couple of hours have been frightening, actually. When it crossed the coast, it was just unbelievable,” Brunker told Guardian Australia.

“There is house damage, there are people on Facebook, different friends whose houses have been wrecked. Up near the reservoir, there’s holes in roofs, a lot of environmental damage.”

With dangerous winds and rain set to keep Bowen residents indoors well into Tuesday evening, the scale of devastation would not be clear until Wednesday but “there will be some considerable amount of damage,” Brunker said.

About 10.30am at the airport on Hamilton Island, one of a group of resort destinations which help the Whitsundays bring in $700m a year in tourism spending, wind gusts were recorded at 263km/h.

Holidaymaker Peter Langtree, of Mackay, said the experience was “quite scary to be honest” and likened the howls of wind to aircraft taking off.

Surveying the damage around the island, Langtree said it was “a lot worse than I thought”. Sheets of roofing steel had been peeled off large buildings, golf carts upended and destroyed.

Langtree told Guardian Australia earlier on Monday afternoon: “The windows to the balcony on our 11th floor apartment were flexing continously from about 7am and are currently still flexing with every gust of wind.”

“The noise is like nothing I’ve ever heard before – I guess if you had to explain it, it would be similar to standing next to a 747 on take off.

“The rain is still quite heavy [but] what we can see is that almost all the trees on the island are completely bare stripped of all their leaves. There are fallen trees everywhere along with a lot of debris from surrounding buildings which have lost part of their roofs guttering, etcetera.”

Hamilton Island soon after it was hit by Cyclone Debbie on 28 March, 2017. Photo by Peter Langtree of Mackay Photograph: Peter Langtree

A resident in Proserpine, named only as Sue, told ABC of her shock at watching her neighbour’s roof smash into her house. “We’ve got three broken windows now, so the rooms are totalled,” she said. “We’ve got water coming down the hallway … the doors are shaking.”

Rosalind Willcocks, who owns a caravan park at Hideaway Bay, not far from the cyclone’s landfall halfway between Bowen and Airlie Beach, said the cyclone had “absolutely ripped us to shreds”.

She said Debbie’s roaring winds had stripped the site – from which guests were cleared days earlier – bare of all vegetation, uprooting at least 30 large trees and sending “all sorts of crap” flying.

“It’s just destroyed our trees and our garden,’ she told Guardian Australia. “The buildings are brick but we did lose a barbecue, fridge, things like that went flying off. There’s only two of us here to clean it all up.

“Hopefully we’ve passed the worst of it now and we’ve just got a few days of cleaning up and wait for the electricity to come back.”

Tony Fontes, a dive tourism operator who sheltered from the cyclone at his Airlie Beach home 500 metres from the ocean, said the experience had been “bloody scary”.

“Lots of large tree branches crashing on the house roof and steadily rising water,” he said.

Fontes said he expected Cyclone Debbie would be a mixed development for the Great Barrier Reef. Local coral would be damaged but the stir of water would cool sea-surface temperatures now causing mass bleaching across the broader reef.

“We’ve seen cyclone damage to the reef before and it is awful,” he said. “Locally it’s a disaster but reef-wide it’s a good thing – I guess that’s the best way to look at it.”

A Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said Mackay, the most populated area at the southern edge of the cyclone watch zone, had missed out on a disastrous storm surge “by a whisker”. The storm’s later than expected arrival meant the inundation did not add to a high tide, but heavy rain was expected to continue across the region.

On Monday authorities urged 25,000 people to evacuate low-lying areas of the city but it was not clear how many followed that advice.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

 

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