Thousands to be evacuated from Whitsundays
DEPUTY Premier Jackie Trad said the defence force had managed to evacuate 200 people from Daydream Island while delivering food, fuel and water supplies to those remaining.
She confirmed the Hamilton Island airstrip had become operational, with departures already taking place from the holiday destination.
Another two evacuations were required in locations at Mackay as the region dealt with a deluge of rainfall overnight from the slow-moving low pressure system.
Residents were encouraged to visit their local council's website to find out where to pick up sandbags wherever required.
Ms Trad urged people to stay off the roads as the weather was expected to intensify throughout the day, leading to possible flash flooding.
"In line with this, the State Government has made the decision that all non-essential public servants should go home and should keep the public transport and the roads clear for travel throughout the course of the day," Ms Trad said.
Public transport throughout south east Queensland will be free from 10am today to make travel easier for people to get home.
"We are confident the public transport system will operate normally throughout the course of the day, so this remains an option for people," Ms Trad said.
She apologised for any inconvenience caused by an eleventh-hour decision to close many schools across Queensland.
"We would rather inconvenience you this morning than be trying to rescue you this afternoon," Ms Trad said. "We want parents and children home safely as this weather system intensifies and the wind speed picks up and the rain continues to fall."
Ms Trad encouraged people to rely on official updates from emergency service leaders than turning to social media commentary.
As revealed earlier, Qantas will operate six services out of Hamilton Island today to get hundreds of guests stranded by Cyclone Debbie back home.
A Qantas group spokesman said Qantas, Jetstar and QantasLink would operate six services from Hamilton Island to
Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns today.
With the exception of Qantas Group support teams, these aircraft will all fly empty to the island.
A combination of Qantas B737s, Jetstar A320s, QantasLink Q400 will operate a mix of scheduled and recovery flights, with seating for up to 174, 180 and 74 passengers respectively.
"By upguaging our scheduled services to larger aircraft we will be able to assist in flying more passengers back to the mainland,'' the Qantas spokesman said.
Hamilton Island airstrip now open.
Australian Defence Force about to land in Daydream Island with capacity to evacuate 200 people.
OVERNIGHT: Guests and staff will learn how they are being evacuated from Hayman Island by boat first thing this morning.
A statement on the Hayman Island Facebook page posted in the early hours of Thursday said officials were working on finalising logistics to transport all guests to Hamilton Island airport.
"We will be receiving maritime clearance for departure from the portmaster early in the morning and will continue to post updates," the statement said.
It followed two other updates posted overnight in the most frequent communication received by those on the island since Cyclone Debbie hit.
An earlier post said everyone on the island was "safe and dry."
"All necessary measures have been taken to ensure everyone's safety and comfort on resort," the earlier statement said.
"Our team continues to work arduously with the relative authorities to expedite our guests returning home."
The staff member posting the updates later thanked guests and staff for their support and cooperation as the island recovers from the category four cyclone.
Anyone checking on friends or family were encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three thousand people were last night stranded in the Whitsunday Islands with limited food and water in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
A mass evacuation of Hamilton and Daydream islands was yesterday called off due to bad weather and damaged infrastructure.
Qantas and Jetstar are hoping to fly in to Hamilton Island this morning to evacuate residents and guests, while Virgin Australia says it will decide at 8am.
On Daydream Island water was rationed to one bottle per person for 275 guests and 142 staff, as supplies ran low.
As the clean-up continued, residents in the Mackay region were last night told there was 24 hours of drinkable water left as floodwaters began to rise.
Residents living downstream from the Kinchant Dam, west of Mackay, were being warned to leave their homes and move to higher ground.
SunWater said the dam was at 119 per cent capacity - at 3.15pm - and rising. People living downstream of Middle Creek Dam near Sarina have also been told to leave.
Tropical Cyclone Map
A woman reported missing after last being seen standing on the roof of her car in floodwaters on the Bruce Highway near Proserpine late on Tuesday was found safe early yesterday morning.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will fly to north Queensland together this morning to witness the region ravaged by Cyclone Debbie.
As Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk praised preparations for helping save lives, she warned: "Now the hard work is about to begin.
"It's the clean-up and restoring the power so people can get back to their normal lives.
"That's not going to happen overnight, that's going to take some time."
A spokesman for Daydream Island said it would either ferry guests to the mainland or to Hamilton Island if the airport opened.
"Daydream is confident it can get guests off the island (today)," he said.
Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said no evacuations from the Whitsunday Islands had taken place after ongoing bad weather compromised plans.
He said people on Hayman Island were happy to wait for boats to ferry them one once the weather allowed for it. However he said there was low supplies of water on Daydream.
"We've got a barge going out there tonight to keep them going until we can get the evacuation happening there," Mr Gollschewski said.
Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Wilcox said Daydream Island had requested military assistance, with plans originally to send helicopters.
Cr Wilcox said 58,000 homes in the region were still without power.
Jacqui McCullagh, who was staying on Hamilton Island with her friends, said the once-lush tropical island "looked like a war zone".
She said it was a miracle no one had been killed or seriously injured.
"Boats washed ashore, houses without roofs, windows smashed in, trees snapped in half, gum trees torn out of the ground and those that do remain standing, are bare and lifeless," she said.
"The wind gusts were so ferocious, they sounded like freight trains passing by. The concrete walls were shaking non-stop all day."
Guests planning to travel to Hamilton Island were told the clean-up could take up to two months and should re-book from June, according to a social media post from the Hamilton Island account on Facebook.
Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson said the region was now dealing with a massive flood effect.
"We can't pump out of the river because of floodwater," he said. "
We had to rely on our bores. Torrential rain ... is giving us a lot of headaches."
The State Government has donated an initial, immediate $1 million, to be split evenly between four charities - Red Cross, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and UnitingCare - to help communities shattered by the disaster.
Palm trees are shredded as a golf buggy tours the damage at Hamilton Island. Picture: Paul Ferrante
As people emerged from their homes and hotel rooms at Airlie Beach yesterday the scene before them was horrendous.
Hundreds of homes and buildings damaged; scores of yachts shipwrecked on the shore; debris-covered streets strewn with tin, sand and shards of glass; trees uprooted; rainforests shredded, and thousands of lives thrown into turmoil.
"Talk about putting the dagger in,'' said local tourism identity Peter Chengody.
"Debbie just stuck it to us and twisted and twisted."
In the grip of the state's biggest cyclone in living memory, baby Billiana was born in the ambulance station - a symbol of new life in scenes of carnage.
Five cyclone veteran and Airlie Beach local Steve Andrew, 56, had his roof torn apart after the Eye of Debbie hit the coast.
"I lost my business to Cyclone Ului and now my home has been demolished by Debbie," he said.
"This place is unliveable. Water is pouring into the living room like a waterfall."
He said the violent second-half of the cyclone as winds ripped in from the north and intensified was the "scariest" moments of his life.
"But I'm alive," he said.
"I've had numerous offers of support. It gives you new faith in humanity."