Ashley and Kristy Bourke evacuating their home as flooding hits North Eton.
Ashley and Kristy Bourke evacuating their home as flooding hits North Eton. Annette Dew

Cyclone Debbie: How she unleashed on North Qld

SHE was slow moving, intense and destructive and she'll be etched in the minds of so many Mackay and Whitsunday residents who were in her path.

Severe Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Debbie unleashed her fury on the region when she made landfall Tuesday, March 28, 2017, and now there will be months and possibly years of rebuilding in many of the hardest hit areas.

Here's how it unfolded.

The beginning of TC Debbie formed at the eastern end of an active monsoon trough extending from the Indian Ocean across the top of Australia and into the Coral Sea.

The monsoon trough is a region of low air pressure and thunderstorms that forms over northern Australia in the summer months, bringing with it the wet season.

On March 22, a large region of active thunderstorms began to organise into a weather disturbance off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.

Over the following two days the thunderstorms organised about a circulation centre as sea level pressures began to drop and moist air converged into the area.

By late on March 24 a tropical depression, a forerunner of a cyclone, had formed and begun to drift south, making a long S-shaped track.

Competing with a cyclone forming off the coast of Western Australia, it was a battle which would form first to be named Tropical Cyclone Caleb. Caleb formed off the coast of WA and was named on March 23.

Saturday

Tropical Cyclone Debbie was named on March 25 and would be the first cyclone to impact Queensland this season.

Its original forecast track put it crossing the Queensland coast at Ayr, at some point between Townsville and Bowen.

Sunday morning

The Local Disaster Management Group met on Sunday, March 26, in the Ayr council chambers of the Burdekin Shire Council, 60 members of emergency and community groups gathered for the latest on Cyclone Debbie.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Doug Fraser told the group that by 8am Monday, the bureau would have a "much more clearer picture" on exactly where Cyclone Debbie would cross the coast.

 

Ayr shops preparing for Cyclone Debbie 2017
Ayr shops preparing for Cyclone Debbie 2017 Cas Garvey

Sunday night

At 6pm Sunday, the forecast track was putting the category 4 system to cross at Alva Beach, at Ayr.

"By 10am (Monday) at the earliest is when we'll see 100kmh winds at Alva Beach, with the rainfall and gusty showers starting by about 6 or 7am and starting to move through," Doug Fraser said.

"We're expecting it to intensify to a Category 3 by midnight (Sunday) and then a Category 4 by midday (Monday)."

The 8pm BoM update said the cyclone was expected to intensify into a category 3 system that evening and was likely to make landfall as a category 4 system just south of Ayr about 6am Tuesday.

But then TC Debbie came under the influence of the subtropical ridge, a zone of stable high pressure that brings much of Australia's fine weather during the summer.

This drove Debbie west-southwest towards the Queensland coast while it gradually intensified further.

 

Drone vision over Lamberts Beach after Cyclone Debbie. Photos courtesy of Michael Kennedy, chief operator National Drones Mackay.
Drone vision over Lamberts Beach after Cyclone Debbie. Photos courtesy of Michael Kennedy, chief operator National Drones Mackay. Michael Kennedy, chief operator

Monday morning

At 5am Monday, thousands have been ordered to evacuate as Tropical Cyclone Debbie barrels towards the north Queensland coast, bringing 280kmh 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 400km east of Townsville and 285 kilometres east northeast of Bowen.

BoM have specifically warned residents between Lucinda and Mackay of a dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast on Tuesday morning.

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 go 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.

Cyclone shelters in Bowen and Proserpine, with a capacity of 800, prepared to open their doors.

 

Palm St Resident Cathy Seiver, her dogs, And elderly mother, (already transported by Police), Assisted out of her street by QFES Swift water Rescue team members in Mackay, after tropical cyclone Debbie hit the north Queensland region, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. There are fears hundreds of homes and businesses have been damaged by ex-tropical cyclone Debbie after it hit north Queensland with ferocious winds and driving rain. (AAP Image/Daryl Wright) NO ARCHIVING
Palm St Resident Cathy Seiver, her dogs, And elderly mother, (already transported by Police), Assisted out of her street by QFES Swift water Rescue team members in Mackay, after tropical cyclone Debbie hit the north Queensland region, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. There are fears hundreds of homes and businesses have been damaged by ex-tropical cyclone Debbie after it hit north Queensland with ferocious winds and driving rain. (AAP Image/Daryl Wright) NO ARCHIVING DARYL WRIGHT

Monday night

"This is going to be a monster of a cyclone," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tells a press conference, after she earlier went on national TV instructing 25,000 people in the Mackay region to evacuate their homes.

Because of the relatively high amounts of moisture in the atmosphere, and relatively warm ocean waters, Debbie intensified to category 4 by 10pm on March 27, with the strongest wind gusts reaching 225-280kmh.

Tuesday morning

The Whitsunday Islands are lashed by destructive winds as Cyclone Debbie makes its way across land. Power was already out across many parts of the region.

Authorities warn it will be a long day ahead, with the wide and slow moving system expected to take many hours to pass.

Residents describe the sounds as "freight trains coming through".

Tuesday afternoon

Tropical Cyclone Debbie crosses the Queensland coast near Airlie Beach on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 28.

Reports of wind gusts in excess of 200km an hour and rainfall of more than 1000mm of rain are made in some areas along the central Queensland coast in the time it took for Debbie to cross the region.

Tuesday afternoon Debbie was a strong category 4 cyclone with a central pressure of 943 hectopascals and surface sustained winds of 185kmh.

At 4pm the Bureau of Meteorology downgrades TC Debbie to a category 3.

To put Debbie in context, there has been only one cyclone since 1980 to have made landfall in Queensland with a lower central pressure. That was Yasi in 2011. Debbie is the fifth cyclone of the season for Australia as a whole and the most intense of the season so far.

Anomalously high moisture, warm ocean temperatures, and low environmental pressures seem to have created the conditions that allowed TC Debbie to form and grow in intensity.

 

Kathryn and Bill Early's home in Hydeaway Bay was destroyed by Cyclone Debbie.
Kathryn and Bill Early's home in Hydeaway Bay was destroyed by Cyclone Debbie. Peter Carruthers

Tuesday night

The state's police commissioner issues grave warnings to residents late in the day: "We are going to get lots of reports of damage and sadly I think we will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths. We need to be prepared for that," Commissioner Ian Stewart said.

Concern turns to the inland communities around Collinsville.

About 11pm TC Debbie is downgraded to a Category 2 system centred to the south-west of Collinsville.

Wednesday

The extent of the damage from the cyclone starts to be realised in the morning, with homes and structures damaged, trees down, erosion, cane flattened and rivers rising.

At home fears turn to Mackay's Pioneer River, receiving more than a metre of rain in Debbie's deluge meaning a major flood warning is issued at its peak at midnight.

About 63,000 residents across the Mackay and Whitsundays regions are left without power.

Major flooding was also expected for the Connors, Isaac and Burdekin rivers.

 

Cyclone coverage Alan and Beverley Creber at their home thtas Flooding in North Eton near Mackay. Pic Annette Dew
Cyclone coverage Alan and Beverley Creber at their home thtas Flooding in North Eton near Mackay. Pic Annette Dew Annette Dew

Thursday and Friday

Flooding rain from the now ex-Cyclone Debbie continues to inundate central and south-east Queensland.

Almost 100 people - many stranded on the top of houses, cars and verandas - have been rescued by emergency workers after being trapped by floodwaters in cyclone-battered central Queensland.

The deluge that hit the northern coastline with category four Cyclone Debbie is now wreaking havoc inland and also in the south of the "sunshine state".

Overnight and morning flooding had been at its worst in and around Mackay where the Pioneer River broke its banks, overflowing local dams to exacerbate floodwaters, especially in the Eton and Homebush areas.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said 38 people had been rescued in the Mackay region overnight while about 50 more needed evacuating up until 9am Thursday.

By 10am only four were left waiting for a helicopter at Hannans Rd, Eton.

The prime minister and opposition leader arrive in cyclone-hit communities of Mackay and the Whitsundays to inspect the damage and relief efforts. About 1200 defence force personnel were involved in the recovery efforts.

Schools across much of Queensland are being shutdown as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and emergency services instruct anyone in the path of deadly storms to stay inside.

The storm is expected to hit south-east Queensland through Thursday night and into Friday morning before it heads east out to sea.

 

Steven Andrew, 56, had his roof torn apart by cyclone Debbie, Airlie Beach post cyclone Debbie.
Steven Andrew, 56, had his roof torn apart by cyclone Debbie, Airlie Beach post cyclone Debbie. Liam Kidston

The hardest hit

The Whitsundays region copped the worst of Cyclone Debbie's fury, with the Category 4 cyclone crossing between Airlie Beach and Bowen and then hitting Proserpine.

The story of Helen Muller and Popa the Jack Russell shows the story of the entire region. Helen and Popa spent 36 hours cowering in the safest place inside their old home - the bathtub.

"We were in the bedroom and we heard it coming and I just picked him up with my wireless and my mobile phone and came down to the bathroom," she told the Whitsunday Coast Guardian.

"I didn't have a clue what was happening outside and I heard the back door cracking. I rang my sister and said 'I don't think you are going to see me and the dog anymore'."

 

Brooke and Hudson Camilleri with CNC Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Candidate Janene Moore.
Brooke and Hudson Camilleri with CNC Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Candidate Janene Moore. contributed

Medical staff pushed to limits

During Cyclone Debbie, Mackay Base Hospital broke records for the number of patients seen in a single day.

About 180 people came through the doors of the hospital's emergency department on Wednesday March 29, a day after the category four cyclone made landfall.

Amid evacuation orders and widespread destruction, one Mackay GP made it through the cyclone by treating patients under the light of torches.

Two babies were delivered at ambulance stations during Cyclone Debbie, with one delivered at the Whitsunday Ambulance Station at Cannonvale on Wednesday, March 29.

Another baby girl was delivered at the Nebo Ambulance Station about 10.30am on Wednesday.

TC Debbie impacted many suburbs throughout the Mackay and Whitsunday regions. For a suburb by suburb breakdown, see from Page 30.

 

A state of emergency has been declared for Whakatane, New Zealand as the Rangitaiki River breaks its banks and inundates homes. Photo: Whakatane Beacon
A state of emergency has been declared for Whakatane, New Zealand as the Rangitaiki River breaks its banks and inundates homes. Photo: Whakatane Beacon Whakatane Beacon

But Debbie's not done yet

Rockhampton's Fitzroy River reached a peak of just under 9m on Thursday, while ex-tropical cyclone Debbie wreaked havoc across New Zealand, slowly fizzling out.

Thousands were evacuated in the North as hundreds of homes were inundated.



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