Trapped in paradise: 3000 stranded on Whitsunday Islands

THREE thousand people were last night stranded in the Whitsunday Islands with limited food and water in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.

A mass evacuation of Hamilton and Daydream islands was yesterday called off due to bad weather and damaged infrastructure.


Qantas and Jetstar are hoping to fly in to Hamilton Island this morning to evacuate residents and guests, while Virgin Australia says it will decide at 8am.

On Daydream Island water was rationed to one bottle per person for 275 guests and 142 staff, as supplies ran low.

As the clean-up continued, residents in the Mackay region were last night told there was 24 hours of drinkable water left as floodwaters began to rise.

PIcs and Video from Midge Point at hieght of cyclone Debbie.
PIcs and Video from Midge Point at hieght of cyclone Debbie. David Atkinson

Residents living downstream from the Kinchant Dam, west of Mackay, were being warned to leave their homes and move to higher ground.

SunWater said the dam was at 119 per cent capacity - at 3.15pm - and rising. People living downstream of Middle Creek Dam near Sarina have also been told to leave.

A woman reported missing after last being seen standing on the roof of her car in floodwaters on the Bruce Highway near Proserpine late on Tuesday was found safe early yesterday morning.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will fly to north Queensland together this morning to witness the region ravaged by Cyclone Debbie.

As Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk praised preparations for helping save lives, she warned: "Now the hard work is about to begin.

"It's the clean-up and restoring the power so people can get back to their normal lives.

"That's not going to happen overnight, that's going to take some time."

A spokesman for Daydream Island said it would either ferry guests to the mainland or to Hamilton Island if the airport opened.

"Daydream is confident it can get guests off the island (today)," he said.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said no evacuations from the Whitsunday Islands had taken place after ongoing bad weather compromised plans.

He said people on Hayman Island were happy to wait for boats to ferry them one once the weather allowed for it. However he said there was low supplies of water on Daydream.

"We've got a barge going out there tonight to keep them going until we can get the evacuation happening there," Mr Gollschewski said.

Daydream Island wharf destroyed during Cyclone Debbie
Daydream Island wharf destroyed during Cyclone Debbie

Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Wilcox said Daydream Island had requested military assistance, with plans originally to send helicopters.

Cr Wilcox said 58,000 homes in the region were still without power.

Jacqui McCullagh, who was staying on Hamilton Island with her friends, said the once-lush tropical island "looked like a war zone".

She said it was a miracle no one had been killed or seriously injured.

"Boats washed ashore, houses without roofs, windows smashed in, trees snapped in half, gum trees torn out of the ground and those that do remain standing, are bare and lifeless," she said.

"The wind gusts were so ferocious, they sounded like freight trains passing by. The concrete walls were shaking non-stop all day."

Guests planning to travel to Hamilton Island were told the clean-up could take up to two months and should re-book from June, according to a social media post from the Hamilton Island account on Facebook.

Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson said the region was now dealing with a massive flood effect.

"We can't pump out of the river because of floodwater," he said. "

We had to rely on our bores. Torrential rain ... is giving us a lot of headaches."

The State Government has donated an initial, immediate $1 million, to be split evenly between four charities - Red Cross, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and UnitingCare - to help communities shattered by the disaster.

As people emerged from their homes and hotel rooms at Airlie Beach yesterday the scene before them was horrendous.

Hundreds of homes and buildings damaged; scores of yachts shipwrecked on the shore; debris-covered streets strewn with tin, sand and shards of glass; trees uprooted; rainforests shredded, and thousands of lives thrown into turmoil.

"Talk about putting the dagger in,'' said local tourism identity Peter Chengody.

"Debbie just stuck it to us and twisted and twisted."

In the grip of the state's biggest cyclone in living memory, baby Billiana was born in the ambulance station - a symbol of new life in scenes of carnage.

Five cyclone veteran and Airlie Beach local Steve Andrew, 56, had his roof torn apart after the Eye of Debbie hit the coast.

"I lost my business to Cyclone Ului and now my home has been demolished by Debbie," he said.

"This place is unliveable. Water is pouring into the living room like a waterfall."

He said the violent second-half of the cyclone as winds ripped in from the north and intensified was the "scariest" moments of his life.

"But I'm alive," he said.
"I've had numerous offers of support. It gives you new faith in humanity."

Topics:  cyclone debbie editors picks whitsunday

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