THOUSANDS have been ordered to evacuate as Tropical Cyclone Debbie barrels towards the north Queensland coast, bringing 280km/h winds, flooding rain and a 4m tidal surge.
Residents in low-lying areas in Bowen, Proserpine and Airlie Beach were ordered to evacuate their homes with the monster storm due to intensify into a "very destructive" Category 4 system hitting a 300km stretch of coast on Tuesday at 6am.
As of 5am Monday morning it remained a Category 2 system, located about 400 kms east of Townsville and 285 kilometres east northeast of Bowen.
The Bureau of Meteorology have specifically warned residents between Lucinda and Mackay of a dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast on Tuesday morning.
The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level well above the normal tide, with damaging waves and flooding of some low-lying areas close to the shoreline as the cyclone approaches the coast on Tuesday.
Large waves may also develop along the beachfront.
The very destructive core of tropical cyclone Debbie is forecast to cross the coast between Rollingstone and Proserpine on Tuesday morning with wind gusts potentially to 230 km/h near the centre.
Destructive winds and gales could extend inland to Charters Towers, Mount Coolon, and Pentland later on Tuesday as the weakening cyclone moves inland.
Abnormally high tides are expected to occur south of Proserpine on the high tides on Monday.
The Bureau has labelled Debbie the most significant cyclone to hit Queensland since Category 5 Cyclone Yasi in 2011.
Police and State Emergency Service workers went door-to-door urging residents in "red zones", which are likely to be go under in a predicted storm tide, to pack belongings and find safety with friends or family on high ground.
But there was little sign of a mass exodus at ground zero sites in the eerily calm Bowen yesterday as residents told how they planned to ignore the evacuation order and ride out the storm in their own homes.
SES controller David Thicker said most of the schools and houses in town were built before 1985 and were unlikely to withstand the cyclone.
Darrell Locke, 62, who lives in a red zone at Queen's Beach in Bowen, said he had seen out six cyclones and had no plans to go anywhere.
"This'll be the biggest cyclone we've ever seen but we're all boarded up and will stick it out," he said.
Big 4 park managers Randy and Karlene Peebles told how they had evacuated two dozen caravan owners, many headed inland, but they themselves plan to stay in their waterfront home in the red zone.
"It's going to be intense, but we've got nowhere else to go,'' Mrs Peebles said.
"I'm getting scared because of the ferocity of it. If we get a 4m tsunami that will be as high as our second-storey. It looks very eerie out to sea.
"It is dead calm, but you can see the clouds are getting darker and trouble is brewing.''
Cyclone first-timer mother-of-three Venessa MacFarlane, of Bowen, was last night moving to an empty rental house in a safe zone as authorities warned her seaside house was likely to go underwater.
"Everything we own is in there. It is heartbreaking to think we could lose it all,'' she said.
Cyclone shelters in Bowen and Proserpine, with a capacity of 800, are due to open to their doors today.
Outraged Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan slammed authorities for shutting tourists out of cyclone shelters last night.
"We've got backpackers turned away from cyclone shelters that are locked up like Fort Knox,'' he said.
"Where are they supposed to go?"
English tourists Katie Gathercole, 22, and Becky Veater, 24, in Bowen were "praying for their lives".
"I'm genuinely scared,'' Ms Gathercole said.
"We've never had to brace for a natural disaster like this and now some backpackers can't get into these cyclone shelters. It is very unsettling.''
EVACUATION DIRECTIONS ISSUED
Overnight, the Whitsunday Council and Townsville and Burdekin Local Disaster Management Groups ordered a police-enacted evacuation of designated low-lying areas ahead of Cyclone Debbie making landfall.
An Emergency Alert issued at 9pm by the Burdekin Local Disaster Management Group said communities are expecting impact from a dangerous storm tide caused by Tropical Cyclone Debbie.
Evacuations are directed in Alva Beach, Groper Creek, Jerona, Wunjunga and some areas of Rita Island. Residents are to seek shelter out of coastal areas by 10am Monday 27 March 2017.
Residents living in the Cape Cleveland area - including Cungulla and Cleveland Palms are also directed to evacuate.
Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services and Minister for Corrective Services, Mark Ryan has declared a disaster situation a directed evacuation of these areas has commenced.
If your property is located in these areas, you should finalise your cyclone preparations and packing of your evacuation kit and evacuate the coastal communities by Monday morning.
Burdekin Councillor Lyn McLaughlin advised that residents should seek shelter with friends or family in safer places, to remove yourself from the Storm Tide risk.
"If you are unable to find alternative accommodation, the Place of Refuge at the Ayr Showgrounds will be opened on Monday 27 March, 2017 at 8am as a place of last resort."
People who have no other alternative accommodation can call the Disaster Coordination Centre on 1800 738 541 for advice.
The 8pm Bureau of Meteorology update said the cyclone is expected to intensify into a category 3 system this evening and is likely to make landfall as a category 4 system just south of Ayr about 6am on Tuesday.
Destructive winds and gusts over 125km/h may develop between Ayr and Mackay on Monday morning before extending northwest to Lucinda.
Residents between Rollingstone and Mackay are being advised to be prepared for a dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast.
The sea is predict to rise well about the normal tide with damaging waves and flooding in low-lying are close to the shore as the cyclone approaches the coast on Tuesday.
Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox said residents should seek shelter with friends or family in the blue or white zones.
"If you are unable to evacuate, the Cyclone Shelters in Bowen and Proserpine will be opened on Monday as a last resort.
"The cyclone shelters have capacity for 800 people each and are only available to those people at highest risk from cyclone effects that have no other option," he said.
Mr Willcox said residents in the yellow zone need to be ready to evacuate if directed.
"Leaving evacuation until Monday may mean evacuation routes are flooded and residents may not be able to leave the area," he said.
Speaking to media after an emergency services briefing on Sunday morning, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said modelling was still being done on the flood threat to communities, with better forecasts expected on Monday morning around exactly where Cyclone Debbie will hit.
"It's going to actually depend on where the cycone croses and the time that it crosses at to whether or not there will be a tidal surge," she said.
"We are doing modelling at the moment, we are conveying that modelling to the local disaster management commitee and if people do need to move they will be told and they must move."
Ms Palaszczuk said it is predicted the Whitsunday and Mackay region will be impacted by the winds first and foremost.
"All of the charter boats in the Whitsunday region have been secured, the ports have been closed.
"There are some remote islands that we are paying particular attention to ... so we are focused on some of these small communities that don't have any chess to shelter and we will be advising them to move," she said.
Ms Palaszczuk said preparations are in place for servicing all affected areas with energy, fuel and other support.
"In relation to energy we have over 800 power workers ready in the region, we've sent 75 further energy workers from the southeast today and another 130 will be going up tomorrow," she said.
Ms Palaszczuk said schools from Ayr to Proserpine will be closed from Monday due to the escalating winds.
She said the action had to be taken for safety, with winds expected to intensify as Cyclone Debbie becomes a Category 3 storm.
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