The full devastation brought on by Tropical Cyclone Debbie will not be known until the morning, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned, as the system is further downgraded to a category two.
Cyclone Debbie is edging slowly inland having crossed the north Queensland coast between Airlie Beach and Bowen earlier on Tuesday afternoon as a category four system, bringing wind gusts of 260 kilometres per hour.
It was downgraded to a category three hours later, and on Tuesday evening was labelled a category two system.
But authorities warned Debbie may persist as long as 18 hours, bringing massive rainfall with it over the coming days.
Police on Tuesday afternoon confirmed that the cyclone resulted in serious injuries to a man in Proserpine, near Airlie Beach.
“A gentleman has been badly hurt by a collapsing wall at Proserpine — we don’t know the condition of the person at this time,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said.
“We need to understand we are going to get lots of reports of damage and injury, if not death, and we need to be prepared for that.”
The Bureau of Meteorology said destructive winds could extend further north-west along the coast to Ayr and to adjacent inland areas, including Collinsville and Mount Coolon late on Tuesday and into the evening.
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.
Several residents reported trees downed, roofs ripped off and widespread property damage, with Ergon Energy confirming 48,000 people have lost power, and will be without power until conditions allow them to do repairs, possibly on Wednesday.
Because the cyclone is moving slowly (12km/h) with a large “eye wall” (50km across), it may take about eight hours for the cyclone to pass some towns completely.
In some areas, it may extend for as long as 18 hours, police said.
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.”
One Hamilton Island resident, Charlie, told the ABC the noise was “just like freight trains coming through left and right”.
“The place is just shaking continuously.”
The BoM said the cyclone would move slowly south-west over the next 12 to 18 hours before heading south over inland Queensland where its peak winds would begin to weaken.
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 BoM.
Meanwhile, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared Cyclone Debbie a “catastrophe”, with thousands of claims expected.
ICA 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.