Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Cyclone Debbie pounds Australia

Reuters, SYDNEY

Outdoor furniture floats in a pool, placed there for safety reasons, at a motel in Airlie Beach, Australia, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas pounded Australia’s northeast yesterday, damaging homes, wrecking jetties and cutting power to thousands of people as Tropical Cyclone Debbie tore through the far north of Queensland State.

Wind gusts faster than 260kph were recorded at tourist resorts along the Great Barrier Reef as the storm made landfall as a category 4, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level. It was later downgraded to category 2.

Forecasters said high winds would likely persist overnight, although the storm would then weaken rapidly and was expected to be downgraded to category 1 by dawn today.

Police said one man was badly hurt when a wall collapsed at Proserpine and was taken to hospital, but the weather was still too bad to assess damage fully or mount an emergency response.

“We will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths. We need to be prepared for that,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters.

As the storm forged slowly inland after nightfall, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged people to stay indoors.

“It is a serious event and we do not want to see loss of life,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It will be a difficult night for people across our state.”

Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach shortly after midday, knocking out telephone services.

“It’s very noisy: Screaming, howling wind ... sounds like a freight train,” Jan Clifford said by text from Airlie Beach as the cyclone made landfall.

“Still blowing like crazy,” she said four hours later.

Authorities had urged thousands of people in threatened areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin on Christmas Day 1974.

Torrential rain flooded streets and wind smashed windows, uprooted trees and tossed debris down streets, while jetties at an Airlie Beach marina were wrecked, Nine Network television pictures showed.

Power was cut for 48,000 people between the towns of Bowen and Mackay, north and south of Airlie Beach, Ergon Energy spokesman John Fowler said.

Ports at Abbot Point, Mackay and Hay Point were shut, and Townsville airport was closed.

Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia suspended flights to and from the region and said planes could also be grounded today, although Townsville airport said it would reopen.

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