JOHN ANDERSEN AT AIRLIE BEACH

AIRLIE Beach is being pounded Cyclone Debbie this morning.

Strong wind gusts started early last night and power went at about 11pm.

The rain has been torrential and non-stop since early yesterday.

The wind has been at Category 2 level for about three hours now and there are severe gusts which must be approaching Category 3.

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Branches are being torn from trees and there are occasional noises of what sounds like iron coming loose from nearby.

The Townsville Bulletin is in a unit on the hill at Airlie.

It is a small unit with large glass doors at the front. There is every expectation that the toilet which has cement block walls will become a sanctuary within the next one hour or so.

Apart from the bending and the horizontal rain, there is no movement outside.

In fact anyone outside now would be blown off their feet by the more violent gusts of wind. Over the last 40 minutes or so there have been the same moaning and almost human-like shrieking noises that were heard in Cyclones Larry and Yasi when the wind hit the corners and edges of buildings.

Visibility is down to 100 metres. Coconut trees outside the unit are doubling over in the wind. A coconut has already been blown into the shed outside the back door of the Bulletin's unit.

In both Larry and Yasi, coconuts were among the worst of the missiles at the height of the winds.

They peppered houses, breaking walls like grape shot and broke car windows, not a comforting thought to anyone considering sheltering behind the protective glass of their car.

With the eye expected to cross the coast at around 1pm, there is no telling what Debbie's intensity might be when she finally makes landfall. Whatever happens, Airlie Beach and its districts to the north and south are going to take a severe battering

DOMANII CAMERON IN BOWEN

Winds of about 100km/h have been roaring through Bowen.

Rain can be seen coming in sideways as strong winds intensify, rattling through buildings and bending palm trees.

While power is still on, there have been intermittent outages this morning.

Assistant police commissioner Paul Taylor said residents needed to remain composed, particularly during the eye of Cyclone Debbie.

"We do know when the initial storm passes it can be calm," he said.

"Don't get lulled into a false sense of security."

Mr Taylor said 283 Bowen residents bunkered down in the evacuation centre last night while 63 stayed at the Courthouse.

"People need to think about what they're doing," he said.

"They need to survive the veracity of the storm.

"A sustained loss of power is expected later.

"A large degree of the community is listening to our messages about minimising danger.

"We are quite impressed.

"Everyone is working to make the community safe."

Bowen resident Regina Murphy has been seeking refuge from the system at Port Denison since Sunday.

Mrs Murphy, who owns an algae farm 14km south west of Bowen with her husband, said she lived in the red zone.

"It's right on the water," she said.

"The farm is being blown to high heavens at the moment - we'd just had everything cleaned and brand new culture placed in.

"That's all been mixed in now."

Mrs Murphy said her husband was lucky to be able to fly back in on Sunday.

"That was good because I was getting a little bit scared," she said

"There has been some wind gusts over the last few days.

"It's our first cyclone in Bowen.

"I think our house is OK.

"But it doesn't matter, what can you do?

"It's nature."

UPDATE: THOUSANDS of people are without power across the Mackay and Whitsunday areas as Cyclone Debbie approaches.

More than 25,000 Ergon Energy customers in the areas have lost power as the Category 4 cyclone bears down on the coast.

Ergon corporate communications manager John Fowler said up to 900 field staff were on standby to restore power after Cyclone Debbie has passed.

"We have 450 in Townsville and north of Townsville and 350 in Rockhampton," he said.

"When it is safe to do so we'll get out to assess the damage.

"We will take some time to turn that power back on because this is a severe category 4 cyclone."

At Paluma about 84 customers are without power in what is believed to be unrelated outage, with technicians attempting to restore it before strong winds from Cyclone Debbie hit the region.

EARLIER: Ground Zero: Airlie Beach is in hibernation as it anxiously awaits the arrival of Category 4 Cyclone Debbie around midday today.

The Whitsunday party town looked like a town that was waiting for a cyclone.

Its normally bustling main street was deserted, save for the odd bare-chested male backpacker looking for a bar that might be open.

Even Magnums, the global backpacker bar in the heart of the village was closed and silent as driving rain and wind gusts provided a glimpse of what might be expected this morning.

Magnums at Airlie Beach deserted as Cyclone Debbie approaches the coast.
Magnums at Airlie Beach deserted as Cyclone Debbie approaches the coast. News Corp Australia

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox said the SES had distributed 10,000 sandbags to residents worried about flooding rain and an expected storm surge.

Torrential rain yesterday already had some local creeks in flood and in low-lying areas sugar cane stood in half a metre of water.

With this amount of water around, the prognosis for the greater Whitsunday region dodging a big flood from what looks certain to be a lot more rain today and in the days to follow is not good.

For some, Cyclone Debbie means massive disruption to travel plans.

Californian visitors Tracey Kumsang, Michelle Hagen and Bon Kumsang struck a forlorn sight as they struggled down the main street yesterday afternoon, looking for a place where they could buy food.

The trio had been left stranded in Airlie after having to bring their chartered catamaran in three days early because of the impending cyclone.

Now with planes cancelled and airports closed they are sitting it out, busily Google searching "cyclones" and "Australia" to find out what manner of beast they might be dealing with.

The cyclone dashed their travel plans and meant they did not get to anchor off world famous Whitehaven Beach or to dive the Great Barrier Reef.

"The main purpose of chartering the catamaran was so that we could dive on the reef," Ms Kumsan said yesterday.

The marina at Airlie Beach full of all the boats called in as Cyclone Debbie approaches the coast
The marina at Airlie Beach full of all the boats called in as Cyclone Debbie approaches the coast News Corp Australia

"We have only been able to snorkel and have not been able to dive." She said the three of them were due to fly out of Proserpine for Sydney yesterday and to Los Angeles today.

"But, now we are waiting to see when we can go. We are hoping we can fly out Thursday, but it is still fun. We are finding out about all of this," she said with a laugh.

Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan warned people to stay safe on the roads and to avoid crossing flooded creeks in the wake of the cyclone.

"I was in Airlie Beach and it was like a ghost town. I've never seen anything like it. There was no one, not a soul in the streets," he said.

Mr Costigan became an early victim of the cyclone himself yesterday. This happened while he was attacked by bees when he stopped to move part of a tree that had fallen over a side road in his electorate.

"I got out to shift part of the tree so it didn't damage my car and these bees that must have had a hive in the tree attacked me. I don't know how many times I was stung on the face," he said.

One meteorologist who spoke to the Townsville Bulletin warned people not to be complacent about storm surges. He said a surge could be like a tsunami and could "turn towns to match wood".

"People don't understand how bad they can be. They are not like a flood as they are often described. They are like a tsunami," he said.

News Corp Australia


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