Australia cyclone prompts flood alert

 

A 1,300km (800 miles) stretch of Australia’s north-east coast is at dangerous risk of flooding after a powerful cyclone, authorities warn.

Cyclone Debbie has caused major damage, torrential rain and power cuts to tens of thousands of homes.

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has activated a disaster response plan.

With up to 250mm of rain forecast on Wednesday, authorities have pleaded with people to stay off roads to avoid being stranded in floodwaters.

“We’ve already had two instances of people who were caught in a vehicle,” said Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll, adding flood rescues were now her “biggest concern”.

Her warning was reiterated by  Turnbull, who said nature had “flung her worst” at Queensland.

Cyclone Debbie made landfall between Bowen and Airlie Beach as a category four storm, whipping gusts of up to 263km/h (163mph), and is now moving inland as a tropical low storm.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said three people had been confirmed injured, but that number could rise.

“For many people this morning, they are waking up and they are seeing the devastation that has happened in their communities,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

She urged insurance companies to “treat people with respect” following the disaster, saying 63,000 homes were without power.

Palaszczuk also expressed concerns that injured people were unable to contact emergency services.

Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the worst-hit towns included Bowen, Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Collinsville.

“Those areas and the Whitsunday Islands remain difficult for us to contact and to get into,” he said.

The Australian Defence Force has been despatched in Queensland to begin public infrastructure repairs.

Electricity providers said it was not known when power would be restored to houses, reports the BBC.

Turnbull asked government organisations, banks and insurers to “pull together” to repair damage.

“There will be a lot of damage… particularly to the older buildings, older homes in particular,” he said.

“Above all, the important message is to stay safe and follow the advice of the authorities.”

In other developments:

*Two men spent a night stranded in their boat after it was cast on to rocks

*The Insurance Council of Australia declared the cyclone a “catastrophe”

*The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said it feared Debbie might have caused extensive damage to reefs in its path

More than 25,000 people were urged to evacuate their homes ahead of predictions the cyclone would be Queensland’s most damaging since 2011.

 

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