Authorities have ordered residents of the Whitsundays and Burdekin regions to evacuate, as Cyclone Debbie continues to bear down on the north Queensland coastline.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has warned of damaging tidal surges with four-metre waves in coastal towns, grounding aircraft for 24 hours.
The system is expected to hit the Queensland coast on Tuesday morning, with winds up to 260 kilometres per hour predicted at the cyclone’s centre, BoM forecaster Rick Threlfall said.
Mr Threlfall told The New Daily the cyclone was currently listed as a category two system, and at 4pm was estimated to be 450km north-east of Townsville and 340km north-east of Bowen, moving towards the south-west at 8kmh.
The cyclone will likely cross the coast between Townsville and Proserpine, the BoM predicted.
Areas of heavy rain with the potential to cause severe flash flooding are expected to develop about parts of the northern and central Queensland coast and adjacent inland areas late on Sunday and continue through Monday and Tuesday.
Widespread daily rainfall totals of 200mm, with isolated falls of 400mm, are also likely to lead to major river flooding into next week.
The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service issued a storm tide watch and act alert on Sunday afternoon for Dingo Beach, Conway Beach, Cape Upstart, Bowen, Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said schools from Ayr to Proserpine would be closed on Monday as a result.
“This cyclone will have a big impact. Given this, I have today made the decision that the schools from Ayre to Proserpine will be closed tomorrow,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Sunday.
“This is a safety precaution as the winds are going to be escalating, we will be monitoring the situation later on today as well and there may be further school closures.
“With the force of these winds I do expect further school closures later in the week.”
The government released a full list of the 33 closed schools on Sunday afternoon.
Ms Palaszczuk also urged residents to warn their neighbours and to make plans to evacuate, if they hadn’t already.
— Robert Baird (@rj_baird) March 24, 2017
However, some Queensland locals have refused to leave ahead of the cyclone’s landfall.
Police and State Emergency Service officers doorknocked homes in the small town of Alva Beach, south of Townsville, on Sunday.
Residents were informed a forced evacuation of the low-lying area had been enacted, but some refused, choosing to sign a disclaimer confirming their decision instead.
Ms Palaszczuk said over 1000 SES personnel have been pre-deployed or on standby in anticipation for Cyclone Debbie’s arrival.
Debbie grounds flights in NE Queensland
Flights to north-east Queensland have been grounded as Cyclone Debbie nears.
Jetstar, Virgin and Qantas have cancelled flights to and from Townsville airport for Monday and Tuesday.
The airlines have also cancelled some flights in and out of Mackay airport, while all flights to Hamilton Island are cancelled for Monday.
“Jetstar will be contacting all passengers on cancelled flights to provide options, including moving to flights on other days or a voucher credit,” the airline said in an alert on its website.
“Jetstar’s safety and operations team continues to closely monitor weather forecasts and further travel alert updates on the status of our north-east Queensland services will be provided on Monday morning regarding flights to/from the region scheduled for Tuesday 28 March.”
Qantas advises Hamilton Island passengers who booked tickets before March 25 for travel by Tuesday can make changes to their bookings.