Residents began evacuating low-lying areas of Australia’s northeast as a powerful cyclone bore down on the coast. Cyclone Debbie was expected to cross the Queensland state coast along a sparsely populated 100-kilometer (60-miles) stretch between the towns of Ayr and Bowen early Tuesday, Australian Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Michael Paech said.
The cyclone was expected to intensify from a category two storm on Monday to a category four storm with wind gusts of up to 260 kilometers per hour (160 mph) when it crosses on to land from the Pacific Ocean, he said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged people in the most vulnerable areas to evacuate on Monday while there remains time before conditions deteriorate.
She said the farming region had never experienced a storm stronger than category two, which packs wind gusts of between 125 and 164 kph (78 and 102 mph).
Older homes would not withstand a category four storm, Palaszczuk said. “The last thing I want is elderly men or women residing in their homes with these destructive winds,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
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People were being bused out of low-lying areas ahead of a tidal surge that could be as high as 4 meters (13 feet), Palaszczuk said. “We need to prepare for worst-case scenario, so we are evacuating people along those coastal communities as quickly as possible,” she said.
The storm early Monday was about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Townsville, a coastal city 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Ayr.