THE rain is already blasting sideways, pushed by gale-force wins and a German tourist has died on a notorious stretch of road, as police warn that "severe weather was a factor".

And it's still 24 hours before Cyclone Debbie makes landfall somewhere near Airlie Beach, north of Mackay.
 

BREAKING: Cyclone Debbie changes track, pushes south

EVACUATION MAPS FOR TOWNSVILLE, BURDEKIN, WHITSUNDAY LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS
 

At 11am, Debbie evolved into a Category 3 cyclone and confirmed it would strike the coast somewhere between Ayr and Cape Hillsborough.

Whitsunday Times and Coast Guardian editor Sharon Smallwood is in her Cannonvale office, almost exactly in the middle of the cyclone's potentially catastrophic path.

She said even on Sunday, the wind had already had an "eerie, screaming pitch" but with cyclone shelters open in nearby Proserpine, sandbags in front of stores and police-led evacuations, it was becoming serious.

LATEST ON CYCLONE DEBBIE: FOLLOW THE TOPIC FOR EMAILED UPDATES

Police are now warning of a storm surge.

"I've been through cyclones before: Anthony, Yasi and Ului - this one does have me concerned," she said.

"Initially I wasn't expecting this to happen because it formed closer to the coast than Yasi.

"The fact that (Debbie) is lingering out there, the intensity they're predicting and the point of where it's going to cross the coast - that has me concerned about what could happen here."

She tells of the logisitical nightmare faced by council and emergency services as homes were evacuated prior to cyclone shelters being open, leaving some people temporarily stranded.

Debbie will touch down at 8am tomorrow as a Category 4 cyclone, the same classification as Cyclone Tracey when it tore apart Darwin more than 40 years ago.

Its spiralling limbs will be pushing "very destructive" blowing somewhere between 225kmh and 279kmh.

Ms Smallwood with her team of dedicated staff are now swiftly filing news from across the Whitsundays ahead of plans to shut the office this afternoon.

She and her team will continue working, but from the safety of their own homes alongside their families.

News Corp Australia


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