UPDATE 11:36am AEDT – Ex-Cyclone Debbie’s path of destruction has cut off all roads to the north Queensland towns of Bowen, Proserpine and Airlie Beach but there have been no reports of injury, even from the hardest hit Daydream Island and Whitsundays areas.
The Bruce Highway, the area’s main arterial road, was cut off by flash flooding near Bowen and is closed to all traffic.
Queensland police will use boats to reach Airlie Beach later today and the Army is sending in an amphibious vehicle.
Daydream Island – which is currently home to 200 hotel guests and 100 staff – had run out of water and authorities were working to get them supplies.
Emergency services have received over 800 calls for help.
Earlier, police said two men who had been missing after their boat ran aground on rocks near Whitsunday Island amid ex-Cyclone Debbie’s destructive force have been found.
The men emailed their family in New South Wales on Tuesday night who alerted police of their situation, however on Wednesday morning the men were spotted alive and well.
It also emerged on Wednesday morning that a baby was born at an ambulance station in the Whitsundays as the cyclone ravaged the area.
— Queensland Ambulance (@QldAmbulance) March 28, 2017
Earlier, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned residents to be prepared for the devastating effects of ex-Cyclone Debbie for another three to five days as it slowly moves down the northern Queensland coast.
Debbie smashed into the Whitsunday region near Airlie Beach at midday on Tuesday, unleashing howling winds of 260km/h.
The storm downed trees, stripped buildings and left shorelines swamped after making landfall as a category four storm and is expected to continue wreaking havoc for the rest of the week.
Debbie was downgraded to a tropical low on Wednesday morning with strong winds still lashing devastated areas like Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Bowen.
One man was seriously injured as Ms Palaszczuk and Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart issued grave warnings to residents.
“We are going to get lots of reports of damage, and sadly, I think we will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths,” Commissioner Stewart said. “We need to be prepared for that.”
The grim prediction came after a man, believed to be aged in his 60s, was badly injured when a wall collapsed on him in Proserpine.
He is now in a stable condition in Proserpine Hospital.
Premier Palaszczuk said there had been reports of damage in Proserpine and several other smaller communities between Bowen and Mackay.
“We’re going to be getting a full assessment of the extent of the damage tomorrow morning at first light,” she told the ABC.
“Please stay inside, do not leave your homes until authorities give you the OK to do so,” she said.
The Premier said the town of Collinsville, south-west of Bowen, was in the firing line of tonight’s category two system.
“We’re concerned about the 1500 residents living there and we’re telling them there’s no time to move,” she said.
The Insurance Council of Australia has declared the storm a “catastrophe”, with thousands of claims expected in coming weeks.
Residents have so far reported trees downed, roofs ripped off and widespread property damage, with Ergon Energy confirming 70,000 people had lost power as of Tuesday afternoon, with that number expected to rise.
While the army has been called in to clean up the disaster zone, the pace of the storm – which forecasters say is slower than the likes of Cyclone Yasi and Larry – means recovery efforts won’t start in earnest until Wednesday morning.
Footage of the cyclone on Hamilton Island
Hamilton Island getting smashed pic.twitter.com/ovIEHEoZQ2
— Jace (@InFaJace) March 28, 2017
And Airlie Beach
— Qld Fire & Emergency (@QldFES) March 28, 2017
An ABC before-and-during sequence showing the impact of the cyclone at Hamilton Island
— ABC News (@abcnews) March 28, 2017
Meanwhile, Townsville, Charters Towers, Mackay and Sarina are expected to escape the destructive winds battering areas further north.
ABC reporter Jonathan Hair in Airlie Beach described the frightening impact of the cyclone in the seaside town.
“It’s really, really loud. That’s the only way to describe it. I want to say it’s terrifying just because you know what it is and you know how powerful it is and you know the winds are going upwards of 100km/h to 200km/h and slamming into your hotel room,” he said.
“This is a fairly secure hotel, it’s made of concrete. It was built recently, it’s cyclone-rated, but at the same time, it’s still blown gutters off roofs, doors off the side of the wall – it’s blown ceiling fans off the ceiling.”
Queensland coast on flood watch
A flood watch has been issued for coastal catchments from Ayr all the way down to the New South Wales border, as well as areas further inland.
The cyclone is also expected to bring daily rainfalls of 150mm-200mm over the next few days, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Insurance Council of Australia CEO Rob Whelan said it was too early to estimate the cost of damage, but said insurers were expecting thousands of claims in the coming weeks.
Policyholders needing help can contact the ICA’s disaster hotline on 1800 734 621.
Since 2006 insurers have paid more than $3.6 billion in cyclone-related claims in Queensland.
Cyclone Yasi, which caused extensive damage to less populated areas in the state’s far north, caused insured losses of $1.4 billion.