29 Mar 2017

Town looks like war zone after Cyclone Debbie - mayor

1:25 pm on 29 March 2017

Two men are missing after their boat ran aground on rocks as Cyclone Debbie slammed into the north Queensland coast.

Emergency workers are out cleaning up the damage wreaked by the massive storm that hit land as a category four cyclone.

Violent wind and rain in Airlie Beach, Australia. Cyclone Debbie

Violent wind and rain in Airlie Beach, Australia Photo: Periscope / James Reynolds

The destructive 50km-wide storm system has cut all roads to the north Queensland towns of Bowen, Airlie Beach and Proserpine, and left tens of thousands of households without power.

The storm first hit the Whitsunday Islands and the nearby mainland and moved slowly inland, bringing massive wind gusts, heavy rain and huge seas. It has gradually weakened to a tropical low.

Police are coordinating a search for two men who had been on a boat that ran aground near Whitsunday Island last night.

The town of Bowen, on the north Queensland coast, looked like a war zone, Whitsunday mayor Andrew Willcox said.

A woman and her baby take at a temporary cyclone shelter in the town of Ayr in far north Queensland.

A woman and her baby at a temporary cyclone shelter in the town of Ayr. Photo: AFP

"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."

Sugar cane crops near Proserpine have been significantly damaged, weeks from the start of the harvest. "It's just like a steam roller has driven over the top," Proserpine cane farmer Glen Clarke said.

Damage from the storm has cut the roads to Bowen, Airlie Beach and Proserpine, but there have been no reports of injury

As the storm raged a baby girl was born at 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," said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Police said one man was badly hurt when a wall collapsed at Proserpine. His condition is still not known.

Look back on RNZ's live coverage of the storm here

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull activated a disaster response plan and defence force helicopters and naval vessels carrying aid were to be sent to Queensland.

More than 50,000 properties in the cylone-hit area were without electricity. Power companies appealed to people to stay away from fallen lines.

Wind and rain from Cyclone Debbie tore this tree from the ground in Mackay.

Wind and rain from Cyclone Debbie tore this tree from the ground in Mackay. Photo: ABC News / Melissa Maddison

Wind gusts stronger than 260 km/h were recorded at tourist resorts along the Great Barrier Reef as the storm made landfall. As it moved inland it gradually weakened to a category one system but was still capable of damaging property.

"It's very noisy: Screaming, howling wind ... sounds like a freight train," Jan Clifford from Airlie Beach told Reuters as the cyclone made landfall.

Proserpine local Sue and her husband huddled in their bathroom as the storm hit. She said her house sustained heavy damage after being struck by debris from her neighbour's roof.

"The next-door neighbour's roof has been flying off for hours and it's smashed into our side windows - we've got three broken windows now so the rooms are totalled," she told the ABC.

"We've got water coming down the hallway from those rooms - the doors are shaking."

Large winds at Mackay, Queensland.

Large waves at Mackay as Cyclone Debbie buffeted the area. Photo: AFP

- Reuters / ABC

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