Australia to begin evacuating cyclone-hit island resorts

SYDNEY: Emergency services plan to evacuate thousands of people stranded on resort islands with water supplies running low in Australia’s tropical northeast on Thursday (Mar 30), two days after Cyclone Debbie tore through the region.

Tens of thousands more people on the mainland remained without power and many regions were cut off by flooding as officials warned that more heavy rainfall was on the way.

“The rain is coming, significant rain,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Mark Roche told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

Cyclone Debbie struck on Tuesday, smashing tourist resorts, flattening canefields and shutting down coal mines in Queensland state as a category four storm, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

The storm, now downgraded to a tropical low, continued to track over Queensland’s central interior in a southeasterly direction on Thursday, slowing attempts by the army and emergency workers to start what is expected to be a lengthy clean-up operation.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is due to tour the region later on Thursday with tourism and agriculture expected to take a major hit from the storm.

Resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and coastal areas bore the brunt of the storm with wind gusts stronger than 260 kph (160 mph).

Pictures from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach showed streets stacked with snapped trees, roof tiles and furniture, with wrecked yachts washed ashore.

People walk past damaged shops after Cyclone Debbie hit Airlie Beach. (AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS)

The naval ship HMAS Choules was on its way up to the Whitsunday Islands with food supplies and special equipment to begin repairing and rebuilding infrastructure.

In the Bowen Basin, the world’s single largest source of coal used to make steel, BHP Billiton, Glencore, and Stanmore Coal all said work at mines there was halted until further notice. Analysts said Debbie could push coking coal prices higher.

Hundreds of hectares of sugarcane crops had been flattened and Wilmar said its sugar mills were stilled at Proserpine and Sarina.

One woman, a tourist, died on Monday in a car crash that police said was due to wild weather on Debbie’s approach. Another two people were injured as the storm passed through.