Thousands flee ahead of Cyclone Debbie in Australia

March 27, 2017 5:00 pm

Thousands of Australians abandoned their homes as a powerful
cyclone bore down on coastal towns in Queensland on Monday, while others
ignored authorities’ advice to evacuate with winds forecast to reach up
to 300 km per hour (185 mph).

Cyclone Debbie is forecast
to strengthen to a Category 4 storm before it makes landfall in the
northeast state early on Tuesday, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology
said.
State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned it would be the
most powerful storm to hit the country since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which
destroyed homes, shredded crops and devastated island resorts.
About
3,500 people left low-lying townships near Townsville, while
authorities advised 2,000 more people in the town of Bowen to also
leave, Palaszczuk said, adding that the “window of opportunity to leave
is drastically closing” as weather worsens.
A Category 5 storm is the strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.
Townsville
Airport was closed and airlines Qantas, Jetstar, Rex and Virgin
said they had cancelled several flights to and from the region
scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
Pictures showed residents who had stayed behind protecting homes and shops with sandbags and plywood boards.
Queensland
produces some 95 percent of Australian bananas and while Cyclone Debbie
is on course to miss the largest growing regions in the state’s far
north, analysts said heavy rains and strong winds could cause
significant crop damage.
The storm late Monday morning was about
375 kilometers (230 miles) east of Townsville, a coastal city 90
kilometers (55 miles) north of Ayr.

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