Howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas pounded Australia's northeast on Tuesday as Tropical Cyclone Debbie landed. Police called for a mass evacuation before the storm arrived.

The northern Queensland town of Airlie Beach, located south of Townsville in Australia, March 28, 2017.
The northern Queensland town of Airlie Beach, located south of Townsville in Australia, March 28, 2017.

Howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas pounded Australia's northeast on Tuesday, damaging homes, wrecking jetties and cutting power to thousands of people as Tropical Cyclone Debbie tore through Queensland state's far north.

Wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour (160 mph) were recorded at tourist resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef as the powerful storm made landfall as a category four, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

Police said one man was badly hurt when a wall collapsed at Proserpine, about 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the Queensland capital, Brisbane.

However, the weather was still too bad to assess damage fully or mount an emergency response.

"We will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths. We need to be prepared for that," Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters in Brisbane.

Cyclone Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach, north of Proserpine, shortly after midday local time (0200 GMT).

Authorities had urged thousands of people in low-lying areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the biggest evacuation since Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

Catastrophe declared

Torrential rain flooded streets and wind smashed windows, uprooted trees and tossed debris through the streets, while jetties at Airlie Beach marina were destroyed.

Power was cut to 48,000 people in a wide area between the towns of Bowen and Mackay, north and south of Airlie Beach.

Ports at Abbot Point, Mackay and Hay Point were shut, and Townsville airport was closed. Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia suspended all flights to and from the region and said planes could also be grounded on Wednesday.

BHP Billiton and Glencore halted work at their coal mines in the storm's path.

The Insurance Council of Australia declared Cyclone Debbie a catastrophe, making it easier to make claims, but said in a statement it was too early to estimate the cost of damage.

With an eye 50 km (30 miles) wide, the cyclone had earlier damaged tourist resorts, washed away beaches and tore boats from moorings as it swept through the Whitsunday Islands.

Despite issuing evacuation orders, police said they were not sure how many people had heeded their advice.

Cyclone Debbie is the strongest storm to hit Queensland since Cyclone Yasi destroyed homes and crops and devastated island resorts in 2011.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies