Cyclone Marcus has moved past Darwin Harbour and is tracking over the Cox Peninsula as authorities say weather conditions continue to remain “severe” across the city.
Police and emergency services are urging residents to remain indoors after the Northern Territory capital was lashed by winds of more than 130kmh.
Apart from the danger of falling trees, the many downed power lines are creating an as yet unknown number of potentially lethal hazards across the tropical city.
In one close escape, a falling tree landed on a service station’s six-metre LPG tank and sparked a fire when its roots shattered an underground gas line, forcing the evacuation of surrounding homes.
But just as Marcus prompted a panic, it also ended it: driving wind and rain extinguished the flames before the leaking LPG container was in serious danger of exploding.
The ABC is reporting NT police rescued two people aboard boats in gale force conditions when their moorings broke away.
As authorities warn the driving heavy rain could combine with tidal surges and flood low-lying areas, Regional Controller Warren Jackson said the storm had blocked streets with fallen trees, hampering damage surveys and recovery efforts.
“We’re experiencing gale-force winds in the Darwin region. That is going to intensify throughout the day and probably into the evening,” Regional Controller Warren Jackson told reporters.
“We’re telling everybody they need to be in shelter, out of the weather, off the roads – so the public is safe.
— Caddie Brain (@CaddieBrain) March 17, 2018
The category-2 cyclone made landfall over Darwin about 12.05pm on Saturday and brought everyday life in Darwin to a soggy halt.
Local council elections and sporting events scheduled for Saturday have been postponed until next weekend.
As Marcus approached on Friday, the AFL Northern Territory moved its grand final series in Darwin from Saturday to Sunday.
“A final call will be made, no later than 8am Sunday should the warning remain in place or the stadium be deemed unsafe or unfit to play on,” the competition said in a statement.
Emergency services have urged residents about the safety of their homes to consider moving into one of the cyclone shelters opened around the city.
“If you’re worried about your home being flooded or unsafe, those shelters are open today, but you need to head there now,” Regional Controller Warren Jackson said.
Current position: Tropical #CycloneMarcus has now moved away from #Darwin and is located over the Cox Peninsula, but conditions still remain severe over the city and surrounds. Watch its movement on the radar at https://t.co/Lh30NI5ZBl
— Bureau of Meteorology, Northern Territory (@BOM_NT) March 17, 2018
Moving southeast by around 12 kilometres an hour, the Bureau of Meteorology said a warning zone is currently in place from Wadeye to Croker Island, including Darwin and the Tiwi Islands.
As the tropical cyclone gained intensity, local residents watched as trees were uprooted and, as one witness put it, “literally rolling down roads”.
— Phillippa Butt (@phillippabutt) March 17, 2018
Mr Jackson also urged businesses to close their doors — a call answered by Darwin Airport, which issued an operations update saying there would be no flights in or out until at least midnight on Saturday.
“Government businesses are closed today. We’re asking other businesses to consider the same measures,” he said.
“Employers should think about their duty of care to their staff .”
All flights to and from Darwin today Saturday 17th March, have been CANCELLED, until at least midnight tonight. A further update will be provided later this afternoon. Please continue to check with your airline or our website for the latest info.
— Darwin Airport (@Darwinairport) March 16, 2018
The Palmerston Council election scheduled for Saturday has also been postponed to next weekend.
Marcus is expected to move towards the Timor Sea later this evening before approaching the Kimberley coast as a category two storm.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Cyclone Tracy, which struck Darwin from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day in 1974, was arguably the most significant tropical cyclone in Australia’s history.
With wind gusts of up to 240km/h, Tracy devastated Darwin and its surrounding areas, killing 71 people and leaving 48,000 homeless.