Category 4 Cyclone Debbie Slams Into Australia's Queensland Coast

Bruce Highway cut off by flooding; Daydream Island resort runs out of water

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, March 29,2017) – Damage from Cyclone Debbie has cut all roads to the north Queensland towns of Bowen, Airlie Beach and Proserpine, but there have been no reports of injury from Daydream Island in the Whitsundays, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said this morning.

The Bruce Highway, the main arterial road, has been cut by flash flooding near Bowen and remains closed to all traffic.

Queensland police will use boats to reach Airlie Beach later today and the Army is sending in an amphibious vehicle.

Water Police located two men safe and well aboard a 30-metre steel hull boat that ran aground on rocks near Whitsunday Island last night.

The men have been transported to Shute Harbour, near Airlie Beach.

Authorities are trying to get supplies to the Daydream Island resort in the Whitsundays, where about 200 guests and 100 staff have run out of water.

The SES has received about 800 calls for help from affected communities, while ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie, currently north-west of Moranbah in central Queensland is still making its presence felt with wind gusts reaching 120 kilometres per hour and heavy rain falling over much of north Queensland.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services deputy commissioner Mike Wassing said there was extensive flooding in low-lying areas of Mackay and further north, which were evacuated ahead of the cyclone.

"People are keen to come back and check on their homes — we are asking them to stay safe and remain at either their friend location, evacuation centre or some other location, not to come back and get on the roads yet," he said.

Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri said the cyclone had damaged about 9 million tonnes of cane around Mackay and Prosperpine.

"Cyclone Debbie's footprint could potentially impact on 25 per cent of the sugar cane crop in Australia," he said.

Ms Palaszczuk, meanwhile, rejoiced that a baby girl had been born at the Whitsunday Ambulance Station.

"You know, out of all of this, to see a little miracle, I think brings a smile to a lot of faces," she said.

Fears remain for the safety of people caught in the path of the storm overnight and Queensland emergency services first responders only started to deploy at daybreak.

Ms Palaszczuk has said she was worried about how many people might have been injured but were unable to make contact with emergency services personnel.

"We just don't know how many people are injured, the status of their homes, and what we are hearing is that we are seeing some structural damage in places such as Proserpine," she said.

A wall collapsed on a man at Proserpine at the height of the storm yesterday, but his condition is still not known.

Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox told ABC News 24 Bowen looked like a war zone.

"Trees are down, there's a power line across, I just had to do a bit of rally driving to get around the power pole that's down and there's wires down across the road about 100 yards from my house," he said. 

"We've got flooding in our river as well.

"We managed to get through to here fatality-free, so we definitely don't want fatalities in the mop-up.

"Probably our biggest issue at this present point of time is the amount of power lines that are down and power lines covering the road.

"If anyone is getting this, please stay inside, let the emergency crews do their work — you have to assume that power lines are alive."

Mr Willcox said the best thing to do was stay indoors.

Ms Palaszczuk said many isolated coastal communities had no phone coverage.

"For many people this morning, they are waking up and they are seeing the devastation that has happened in their communities," she said.

"Our hearts go out to them."

Ms Palaszczuk said all hospitals in affected areas would be open.

About 70 nurses and doctors from Townsville, Bowen and Proserpine and 50 extra paramedics have been sent to the region.

"We just don't know yet if there are other injuries," the Premier said.

Ms Palaszczuk is travelling to Townsville today to meet with disaster recovery coordinator, Brigadier Chris Field.

Cyclone Debbie has been labelled a catastrophe by the Insurance Council of Australia.

Spokesman Campbell Fuller said they had staff on the ground liaising directly with local authorities and emergency services.

"Those policy holders with the greatest need will receive the most urgent attention," he said.

Ms Palaszczuk urged insurance companies to "treat people with respect" as they dealt with damages claims.

All schools in and around Mackay will remain closed today, but shipping has resumed at the Port of Townsville.

Communications have been disrupted since Debbie crossed the coast over the Whitsundays yesterday afternoon as a slow-moving category four system packing hurricane-force winds.

As many as 63,000 properties spent the night without power.

The inland town of Collinsville was believed to have been hit hard by the storm, which was downgraded progressively from category two to category one around midnight, then to a tropical low at 3:00am.

A weather event of this magnitude is unprecedented in the small mining community, located about 100 kilometres west of Airlie Beach and until now beyond the reach of cyclones.

Mr Willcox said he had been told a pub in Collinsville lost its roof.

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