27 Mar 2017

Queenslanders evacuated as Cyclone Debbie approaches

6:48 pm on 27 March 2017

Thousands of north Queenslanders are being evacuated as Cyclone Debbie bears down on Australia's north-east coast, bringing winds of more than 200km/h and possibly a 4m storm surge.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has warned the storm will be the worst since Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

The slow-moving category three cyclone is about 300km off the coast and is expected to intensify into category four and cross the Queensland Coast south of Bowen before 10am (local time) tomorrow, with winds up to 230km/h.

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, Whitsunday and parts of the Townsville council regions.

"You're going to see people without power for some time, large trees down, roofs damaged," meteorologist Adam Blazak said.

About 1000 extra emergency services personnel have flown into the region to prepare the low-lying coastal communities.

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 from 2-4m.

Police and SES are out from early this morning telling residents in low lying areas to leave immediately.

A voluntary evacuation has been issued for the areas of Home Hill, Ayr and surrounds south of Townsville. Evacuation buses will transport residents from Ayr and Home Hill this morning.

Cyclone shelters have been opened in Bowen and Proserpine, but authorities said they were only for people who had no other options.

They were for people in the cyclone zones who felt vulnerable and had exhausted all other shelter options, they said. There were strict rules in the cyclone shelters regarding basic amenities, with people only allowed to sit in chairs and not lie on the floor or mattresses.

People in the shelters must be self-sufficient and bring essential non-perishable food; there are no public cooking facilities and limited bathroom facilities and medical support.

Schools from Ayr to Proserpine are closed today, with as many as 74 likely to be closed by the end of the day.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service has activated its emergency management plan and has postponed all elective surgery scheduled for today and tomorrow.

Army on standby, electricity workers deployed

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Army was on standby and ready to help before and after the storm passed.

"We also have the Australian Defence Force - we actually have people that have been deployed to different areas making sure that there is fuel at the service stations," she said.

Ms Palaszczuk also said that state's electricity providers would be working together to ensure power supply was restored as quickly as possible after the event.

"In relation to energy, we have over 800 power workers in the region we have sent 75 further energy workers from southeast up the region, and another 130 will be going today," she said.