Destruction as massive cyclones hit Australia
Two powerful cyclones roared ashore in Australia Friday leaving a trail of destruction with buildings severely damaged, trees uprooted and power lines downed, cutting electricity to thousands of people.
Tropical Cyclone Marcia, a category five tempest, slammed into the Queensland coast just after 2200 GMT Thursday with its landfall coming just hours after a second big storm — Cyclone Lam — hit further north.
The category four Lam caused extensive damage to remote Aboriginal communities near Elcho Island, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of Northern Territory capital Darwin, including Milingimbi, Ramingining, and Gapuwiyak.
"Initial indications are that there has been substantial damage, initial reports are the airstrip is still intact but covered with debris," regional police commander Bruce Porter said of the Elcho Island community, which was without power and water.
"There are downed power lines. There are a number of trees down and many roads are impassable and we do have a number of buildings and houses that have been severely damaged."
He added that reports suggested structural damage in Milingimbi and Ramingining but Gapuwiyak appeared to have escaped the worst. There were no reports of major injuries.
Further south, howling winds and torrential rain had residents hunkering down to wait out the terrifying conditions whipped up by Marcia with authorities warning of a "calamity".
The storm landed near Shoalwater Bay, north of Yeppoon, a town of 16,000 people some 670 kilometres (415 miles) north of Brisbane. It has since been downgraded to a category four.
Officials earlier forecast Yeppoon to bear the brunt of the storm\’s eye but Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it only "grazed" the town and was now heading for much bigger Rockhampton, home to some 80,000 people.
"We have heard that there has been some trees down and some slight damage to houses," she said of Yeppoon, adding that there was flooding and 30,000 people without power in the area.
"My message to all of Rockhampton residents is please stay indoors. The eye of this storm is headed directly towards you," added the premier, who was only been in the job officially since last Friday.
Rockhampton is an older town with many structures not built to withstand a cyclone, warned Steve Turton of James Cook University, an expert in Queensland cyclone history.
The impact of Marcia was being felt over a wide area with residents as far away as Brisbane sandbagging their homes and clearing yards of objects that could be whipped away by the wind.
More than 60 schools have been closed and businesses shuttered and a series of domestic flights were cancelled, mostly in and out of Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay and Bundaberg.
Massive seas, a deluge of rain, and gusts of up to 295 kilometres per hour (182 miles per hour) were being experienced along the central Queensland coast with a storm surge predicted to raise sea levels three metres (10 feet) higher than normal.
"We\’ve got trees all around us and it sounds like jumbo jets flying all around the top of us. All the trees are starting to fall over," said a man identified as Ted, who called the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from his home in Byfield.
Resort operator Sian Appleton said Great Keppel Island off Yeppoon expected serious damage.
"I think we\’ll probably lose three cabins and maybe even some of the bistro area."
Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said it was a "desperate situation".
"This is going to be a calamity, no doubt about that," he said ahead of Marcia making landfall.
Queensland has been smashed by several major storms and cyclones over the past few years with Cyclone Oswald, also a category five, flooding parts of the state in 2013, racking up insurance claims of some Aus$977 million (US$765 million).