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Powerful cyclone slams into Australia's tropical north east


Tree debris lies on the street as wind blows in Bowen, eastern Australia (AuBC/AP)

Tree debris lies on the street as wind blows in Bowen, eastern Australia (AuBC/AP)

Tree debris lies on the street as wind blows in Bowen, eastern Australia (AuBC/AP)

A powerful cyclone has slammed into Australia's tropical north east coast, tearing down fences, snapping trees and knocking out power to thousands.

The destructive eyewall of Cyclone Debbie, a Category 4 storm packing winds up to 160mph, made landfall near Airlie Beach, a resort town in Queensland, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said.

The town is starting point for trips to the Whitsunday Islands, a popular tourist destination which has been pummelled by fierce winds that damaged roofs and knocked down palm trees.

Officials warned that the slow-moving storm is likely to hover over the region for several hours before weakening as it moves inland.

Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the cyclone's slow pace had created a "battering ram effect", with some areas enduring the howling winds and drenching rains for a long time.

Communities along more than 200 miles of coastline are expected to be impacted, he said.

"I suspect before the day is out, we will see a lot of structural damage in the cyclone's path," Mr Stewart said.

John Collins, a member of the Whitsundays government council, was sheltering from the storm with his wife and four daughters inside their house in Proserpine, a town south of Airlie Beach.

He could see that four of his neighbours' sheds had been destroyed and every house within eyesight - including his own - had lost their fences. At least four trees had been smashed to pieces.

"It sounds like you got a jumbo jet sitting on the roof of your house," Mr Collins said by telephone of the wind roaring outside. "It really is so loud. It's incredible."

His wife and two of their daughters were so scared they were hiding under blankets. Meanwhile, one of his other daughters - whom he described as "a real weather nerd" - was enthralled with the storm, and was diligently listening to the radio for updates.

The family's power had been out since Tuesday morning, and they were resigned to several more hours of waiting until it was safe to emerge from the house.

"It's just going on and on and on," he said.

Thousands of people evacuated low-lying areas in the storm's path on Monday. Hundreds of schools were closed on Tuesday and more than 20,000 households were without power by mid-afternoon.

"Conditions have deteriorated rapidly," prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an address to Parliament. "Take care and stay safe. Be prepared to shelter in place until Wednesday."

The storm poses a serious threat to the farming region's crops. The area produces a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, mangoes and peppers.


PA Media