Cyclone leaves trail of destruction in Australia

A fallen tree lying near a motel at Airlie Beach, located south of Townsville city, Queensland. The cyclone that hit the region is expected to cause more than a billion dollars' worth of damage.
A fallen tree lying near a motel at Airlie Beach, located south of Townsville city, Queensland. The cyclone that hit the region is expected to cause more than a billion dollars' worth of damage.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Bradley Mitchell inspecting the damage to his uncle's boat after it smashed against the bank at Shute Harbour, Airlie Beach, Australia, on March 29, 2017.
Mr Bradley Mitchell inspecting the damage to his uncle's boat after it smashed against the bank at Shute Harbour, Airlie Beach, Australia, on March 29, 2017.PHOTO: EPA
Boats are smashed against a bank at Shute Harbour, Airlie Beach, Australia, on March 29, 2017.
Boats are smashed against a bank at Shute Harbour, Airlie Beach, Australia, on March 29, 2017.PHOTO: EPA
A boat is seen smashed against the bank at Shute Harbour, Airlie Beach, Australia, on March 29, 2017.
A boat is seen smashed against the bank at Shute Harbour, Airlie Beach, Australia, on March 29, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

Strong winds destroy buildings, topple power lines; thousands evacuated

A devastating tropical cyclone hit Australia's north-east coast yesterday [TUE]and left a trail of destruction as winds of 260kmh destroyed buildings, disrupted flights and cut power for 48,000 people.

The Category Four cyclone - named Debbie - battered island homes and holiday resorts in north-east Queensland before making landfall around midday local time between the towns of Bowen and Airlie Beach.

The authorities had yet to assess the damage yesterday because of the dangerous conditions, but warned that there could be casualties. "We are going to get lots of reports of damage and, sadly, I think that we will also receive more reports of injuries, if not death," said Queensland's Police Commissioner Ian Stewart.

The region was in effective lockdown as highways were blocked, flights cancelled, schools closed, and residents either stayed indoors or were evacuated.

The only known injury was a man hit by a collapsed wall in the town of Proserpine. But Mr Stewart warned: "The loss of power, the loss of phone connectivity means that there could be people right now who are in dangerous and tragic situations - we just don't know about it."

The cyclone is expected to cause more than a billion dollars' worth of damage as well as to hit the coal mining, tourism and sugar industries. The region produces up to half of Australia's sugar.

The area is also popular with tourists because of its access to the Great Barrier Reef. Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia yesterday suspended flights to the region.

Residents yesterday described their "horrifying" ordeal as the cyclone tore down trees, ripped roofs off homes, swamped shorelines and toppled power lines.

Mr John Collins, a Proserpine resident, told the Australian Associated Press that the wind sounded "like a jumbo jet is parked on my roof".

Despite the strong wind gusts in the 50km-wide eye of the cyclone, it travelled slowly - sometimes at only 4kmh. But this slow pace meant the strong winds and rain could continue until the weekend.

The authorities said the cyclone brought "once in a century" rains and could cause severe flash flooding. In Proserpine, 210mm of rain fell in just an hour.

The Australian Defence Force deployed soldiers, aircraft and navy personnel to assist with the emergency effort, including clearing debris from roads and harbours.

Thousands of people who were evacuated have been waiting to return to their homes to inspect the damage.

Queensland's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told ABC News yesterday: "Everyone is going to be in shock tomorrow, just to see the full impact of this cyclone. I am bracing myself for it."

In Singapore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there have been no reports of Singaporeans affected, while a check on the Changi Airport website showed no flight had been affected by the storm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'Cyclone leaves trail of destruction in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe