Storms cause damage across top of Australia but fail to deliver the punch many feared

February 21, 2015 12:01 pm

Communities in coastal and New South Wales are bracing
themselves for downpours of up to 500mm and possible flash floods this
weekend in the aftermath of Cyclone Marcia, which damaged homes, snapped
trees in half and ripped the paint off buildings as it roared across
northeastern yesterday.
In the Northern Territory,
meanwhile, residents of several remote Aboriginal communities will spend
the weekend mopping up in the wake of a separate cyclone, Lam, which
crossed the northern coast yesterday morning, just a few hours before
Marcia struck land near the Central Queensland town of Yeppoon.

Cyclone Marcia destroyed buildings and produced large surf along long stretches of coast. Photo / APN
Meteorologists
said they had never before seen twin storms of such intensity making
near-simultaneous landfall. They were also taken aback by how quickly
Marcia ballooned from a Category 1 tropical storm into a category 5
cyclone, sending emergency services scrambling to evacuate thousands of
homes in its direct path.

Marcia, which brought howling winds and torrential rain as it
hit the coast mid-morning, was downgraded to Category 3 after blowing
roofs off houses in Yeppoon and tearing iron off buildings in the nearby
city of Rockhampton.
But forecasters warned it was still packing
very destructive winds which could batter southern Queensland and
northern New South Wales through the weekend. There are also forecasts
of possible flash floods as heavy rain swells half a dozen river
systems.
In Rockhampton, wind gusts of up to 295km/h sent sheets
of roofing iron tumbling down city streets. Chris Schwarten’s
clothesline was ripped out of the ground. “The whole house was rocking
for about an hour,” he told Australian Associated Press. “A lot of trees
have snapped right off. About every 15 minutes you hear another big
crack.”
The Mayor of Rockhampton, Margaret Strelow, told ABC
radio that Marcia was like “a moving beast”, as it appeared to head
first to the west of the city and then to the east.
Earlier,
Queensland’s new Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, urged Rockhampton
residents to stay indoors, warning them that “the eye of this storm is
headed directly towards you”.

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

In Yeppoon, where Marcia damaged houses, uprooted trees and brought
down power lines, residents were spooked by the noise of the cyclone
passing overhead.
“It sounded like a jumbo jet was about to land on my house,” said one woman, describing an “enormous surge of rain and wind”.
Two women were trapped in the lift of a Yeppoon hotel for about half an hour after power failed.
The
winds whipped up massive seas, with a storm surge exacerbated by a king
tide raising sea levels 3m higher than normal. More than 31,000 homes
and businesses in Yeppoon and Rockhampton were left without power.
In
the Northern Territory, people hunkered down as Category 4 Lam crossed
the mainland coast between Milingimbi and Elcho Island, causing
extensive damage to homes and other buildings in the two Aboriginal
communities.
On Elcho Island, many roads were left impassable
because of downed trees and power lines, while water was also cut off.
After passing over two other Aboriginal communities, Galiwinku and
Ramingining, about 500km east of Darwin, Lam was downgraded to a
Category 3, but continued to dump heavy rain across northern Australia.
Rhona
Golsby-Smith, manager of the clinic in Ramingining, told AAP: “There’s
tree damage, there’s fence damage, power lines are down, there are roofs
with trees on them, but no major damage to houses.”
She added: “I’ve got a coconut tree on my roof.”
While
no one was injured, there were frightening wind gusts of up to 200km/h,
“and we felt every last bit of that and more”, said Golsby-Smith.

Cyclone Marcia looked menacing from space.
Cyclone Marcia looked menacing from space.

In Queensland, where Category 5 Cyclone Oswald killed four people
and flooded wide areas in 2013, there were fears that after breaking up
and becoming a tropical low, Marcia might reform into another cyclone
this weekend.
Sea-surface temperatures off the southeast of the
state are about 27C, and “that’s enough to sustain a cyclone”, said Ben
McBurney, a meteorologist with the Weatherzone service.
Yesterday,
as Marcia headed south, residents of Brisbane and the Gold Coast –
where a separate trough was already bringing heavy rain – sandbagged
their homes as creeks began to flood. The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Graham
Quirk, said the Brisbane River was not expected to break its banks.
However,
there were fears that rain will force the cancellation of Australia’s
second World Cup cricket match against Bangladesh, due to take place in
Brisbane today.
Up and down the coast yesterday, scores of
schools and businesses were closed, as were regional airports. Qantas
cancelled 26 domestic flights.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott,
noting that “we are used to difficult and dangerous summers in this
country”, described Marcia as “a very serious storm”, adding: “Let’s
hope we can get through it without too much damage and certainly without
any loss of life.”

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