| SYDNEY, March 29
SYDNEY, March 29 The Australian army headed into
areas hardest hit by Cyclone Debbie and tens of thousands of
homes remained without power as dawn broke on Wednesday amid
reports of substantial damage in some areas.
Debbie ripped a trail of destruction through northeast
Australia on Tuesday as a category four storm, one rung below
the most dangerous wind speed level, before being gradually
downgraded through the night to a tropical low.
Thousands of people took shelter as tourist resorts along
the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and mainland coastal areas
were belted with wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour (160
There were early reports of significant structural damage to
homes and public infrastructure after howling winds, heavy rain
and huge seas. Two people were injured, one with serious head
injuries after being hit by a falling wall, police said. More
than 51,000 homes were without power.
Queensland state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it
appeared the worst-hit areas were the tourist magnet of the
Whitsunday Islands off the coast and Airlie Beach and
Proserpine, some 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the Queensland
"It's been absolutely smashed. You can't get out or in
there's so many trees down. There are boats all over the
harbour," Jon Clements, who was holidaying on Hamilton Island
when the storm hit, told Reuters.
Wind gusts of 262 kmh, the highest during the storm, were
recorded on Hamilton Island, so it was expected to be hit hard,
although its resorts were designed to withstand category 5
Palaszczuk said she would be briefed on damage at an
imminent emergency services meeting. The storm was declared
catastrophic by the Insurance Council of Australia.
She said the defence force would fly over the area for an
assessment as soon as it was safe to do so. The tropical low
continues to bring winds and heavy rain and flood warnings are
in place in several areas.
"Our main priority is to get that level of assessment done
and then to pinpoint where our emergency services personnel need
to get in there and fix things as quickly as possible," she told
Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
Cyclone Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach, north of
Proserpine, shortly after midday local time (0200 GMT) on
Tuesday, knocking out telephone services.
Authorities had urged thousands of people in threatened
areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the
biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy
devastated the northern city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing
by Toni Reinhold)