CAIRNS (Australia) • Thousands of people, including tourists, were being evacuated yesterday as northern Australia braced itself for a powerful cyclone packing destructive winds, with warnings of major structural damage and surging tides.
Cyclone Debbie has been forming off the coast of Queensland state over recent days, the Bureau of Meteorology said, and is expected to hit land after daybreak this morning.
Residents are being warned to prepare for the worst storm to pummel the state since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped homes from their foundations and devastated crops.
"This is going to be a nasty cyclone," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, adding that structural damage and power outages were likely. "These wind gusts are going to be absolutely huge and my primary concern is making sure that families are safe."
So far, more than 3,500 people have been evacuated from the area between the towns of Home Hill and Proserpine, about 100km south of Townsville, a popular tourist spot used to access the Great Barrier Reef. Another 2,000 were to be advised to leave yesterday, Ms Palaszczuk said.
Over 100 schools have been closed, along with local ports. The premier urged residents to do as emergency personnel asked, amid reports that some people were refusing to leave. Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the turbulence of the approaching storm appeared to have already claimed the life of a tourist in a traffic accident.
The meteorology bureau said Debbie was currently a category three cyclone on a scale of five but was expected to build to a four by the time it crosses land somewhere between Townsville and Proser- pine, with wind gusts of up to 280kmh near the centre.