More than 25,000 people need to be evacuated from low-lying areas in Mackay by midnight with fears incoming Tropical Cyclone Debbie could cause inundation of up to 2.5 metres above highest tide.
The Queensland city’s streets are all but deserted as people bunker down ahead of the cyclone’s arrival.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has warned the storm will be the worst since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was “bigger than Marcia” — the category five system that hit Queensland in 2015.
The latest BoM cyclone tracking map predicts Debbie will cross the coast near Bowen about 9am on Tuesday as a category four system.
— BOM Queensland (@BOM_Qld) March 27, 2017
See the cyclone’s track by clicking here
Queensland Police Service Commissioner Ian Stewart said residents in Mackay’s low-lying areas needed to be moved by midnight.
“The range of inundation may be as much as 0.8 metres above highest astronomical tide [HAT] “or worst case scenario 2.5 metres above HAT,” Commissioner Stewart said.
“We’re asking people who can move out of those low-lying areas to move now.
“Don’t wait till tomorrow, because you will not be able to move.
“We’re asking people to take those precautions and move now.
“We’ll do everything we can through the emergency service to try and support and assist residents … we will also be getting messages to help the vulnerable.”
But many locals have expressed nervousness, and some have refused to leave their homes.
A tourist has died on the road near Proserpine, with Police Commissioner Ian Stewart saying the death was “associated with this weather event”.
Evacuation orders are in place for low-lying areas in parts of the Burdekin, Whitsundays, and parts of the Townsville council regions.
About 3500 people have left their homes and another 2000 will be asked to leave around Bowen.
“You’re going to see people without power for some time, large trees down, roofs damaged,” meteorologist Adam Blazak said.
“You want to be inside. You’re going to see large flying debris. Obviously caravans don’t usually stand a chance. You usually see them completely destroyed.”
‘We haven’t seen a cyclone like this’: Mayor
Forced evacuations have been completed but Burdekin Shire Mayor Lyn McLaughlin said she said she knew of a couple of people who had not left and police had been visiting those who had not followed orders.
“They don’t understand the severity. This is a major cyclone. We haven’t seen a cyclone like this,” she said.
“People who stay, they stay at their own risk.
“They are given notice that once the winds get to 100 kilometres no-one is going to come to their assistance.”
Cyclone shelters have opened in Bowen and Proserpine, but authorities said they were only for people who had no other options.
The local ports have been closed and schools from Ayr to Proserpine are closed, with as many as 74 likely to be closed from Tuesday onwards.
QFES warns of massive storm surge
Up to 300mm of rain is forecast to fall around Bowen and Ayr on Tuesday.
BoM has specifically warned residents between Lucinda and Mackay of a dangerous storm tide when the cyclone crosses the coast.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) commissioner Katarina Carroll said the biggest concern was not just the wind, but the rain and the storm surge that would follow.
She said it could be anywhere between two and four metres.
State Disaster Coordinator Steve Gollschewski said authorities were doing constant modelling on how many homes and where would be affected.
“If you are in a storm-surge home and you are directed to move, you need to move. You can shelter from wind in your house, you cannot shelter from storm surge,” he said.
Cyclone Debbie ‘bigger than Marcia’: Premier
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it would be the first time a category four cyclone had hit the region.
She said Debbie was “bigger than Marcia”, which made landfall as a category five system in a largely uninhabited area north of Yeppoon.
— BOM Queensland (@BOM_Qld) March 27, 2017
Ms Palaszczuk said she was concerned for the elderly and people with a disability who live in pre-1985 homes.
“The old homes will not sustain the impact,” she said.
“Queenslanders are very tough. We know that. We have got a history of standing up to a lot of things that come our way.
“What we are seeing is this window of opportunity to leave is drastically closing.”
About 1000 extra emergency services personnel have flown into the region.
The Army is on standby and ready to help before and after the storm passes.
Authorities have also ensured the region does not run out of fuel and energy suppliers will ensure power is restored as quickly as possible after the event.