Tens of thousands took what shelter they could as Cyclone Marcia caught Queensland State almost unawares, gathering strength in just a few hours before making landfall mid-morning as a category 5 system — the highest rating.
Emergency services scrambled to evacuate thousands of homes before pulling out and warning anyone who had not left to barricade themselves inside to avoid wind gusts peaking at 285km/h.
Rail lines to coastal ports, an essential part of Queensland’s (€190bn) commodities export-driven economy, were brought to a standstill.
“Stay indoors, take the safest room in the home and let the storm pass,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services assistant commissioner John Watson told media after the storm passed over the coastal city of Rockhampton, home to 75,000 people, and headed south towards Australia’s third-largest city, Brisbane.
There were no reports of deaths or injuries and the storm was downgraded to a category 2 by evening. But authorities warned that heavy rains and flooding were likely to continue for several days and extend inland.
Some 48,000 homes were left without power, Watson added, broken powerlines and flooding leaving some areas too dangerous for energy companies to begin repairs.
The storm roared over the coastal town of Yeppoon which, like Rockhampton, was facing a night without power.
“The home is one of the oldest in Yeppoon,” Melanie Cobb told Reuters as she sifted through the rain-soaked contents of her grandmother’s 80-year-old house where one wall had been ripped away. Among the ruined contents was Cobb’s childhood teddy bear.
Emergency service officials in the neighbouring Northern Territory were beginning to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Lam that made landfall in the remote region east of Darwin.