Tropical Cyclone Marcia has been downgraded to a category four storm, but wind gusts up to 250 kilometres per hour are being recorded as it moves south along the Queensland coast.
Marcia is moving over the Central Queensland town of Yeppoon and is on track to hit Rockhampton this afternoon.
The storm made landfall about 7:30am (AEST) as a category five storm near Shoalwater Bay, between St Lawrence and Yeppoon in Central Queensland.
A cyclone warning is in place from Sarina to Double Island Point, north of Gympie, and extends inland to Duaringa, Moura, Biloela, Monto, and Mundubbera.
Police have closed the Bruce Highway between Rockhampton and St Lawrence.
It’s wild out there: Yeppoon local
John McGrath, a wildlife ranger who lives on the beach at Yeppoon, told ABC News 24 he had watched the situation worsen since early this morning and his young family had taken shelter in the bathroom of their century-old house.
“Looking out the window and basically the trees and bushes are just going side to side, really getting buffeted about – quite wild winds,” he said.
“I’ve seen similar winds before, but you just know it’s escalating – palm trees swaying, actually doing gymnastics essentially.
“It’s wild out there – it is not a safe place to go out side now, for sure.”
He said of his house: “It is a high-set weatherboard built into a steep hill. The flexibility of the weatherboard means that hopefully a bit of give with the wind and hopefully we should be alright.
“Friends have told me it should be alright. We believe the roof is cyclone-rated. I certainly hope that proves to be true, otherwise we’re in trouble.
“We’ve got a lot of window panes and that, so I’m just hoping that they hold up to any flying debris that will inevitably be coming our way.”
George Thompson said he had evacuated from a boat he was staying on in Yeppoon.
“She’s still in Ross Creek, but I’m not quite sure how much longer it will be there – massive surge on top of the big tide so I’m expecting the worst,” he said.
“I actually went and stayed at a friend’s place in a caravan park, but we’ve since had to evacuate there as well.”
Yeppoon resident Katherine said she was amazed by Marcia’s power.
“I heard this sound, and it sounded like a jumbo jet was about to land on my house – this enormous surge of just rain and wind,” she said.
Yeppoon resident Peter Lowe said he could feel the top storey of his house shake as Cyclone Marcia approached.
Mr Lowe said he bunkered down with his wife and two daughters, playing a board game.
“It’s quite windy at the moment. We’ve got windows flexing in around the house. A lot of rain has been quite heavy, quite strong, for a couple of hours now,” he said.
Ray, from the suburb of Pacific Heights in Yeppoon, said the storm was ferocious.
“All my shrubs are going to get knocked out. They’re bending over, hitting the ground,” he said.
“The house is alright, but the worry I have is the roller door, it wants to push in.
“I’ve got it chocked up as best I can. I don’t know how long it can last.”
Marcus from Byfield, north of Yeppoon, said his home was shaking and large trees have been torn apart.
“All the large timber – the big bloodwoods – the tops of them – most of them are all gone,” he said.
“I’m crawling across the floor to stay low from flying debris. It’s like a bomb site, like nuclear bombs going off here.”
Wild seas whipped up by Cyclone Marcia hammered Great Keppel Island off the Capricorn Coast.
A section of beach three metres high was carved away.
But Great Keppel Hideaway manager James Skuchort said it could had been worse.
“There’ll be a lot of repair work for sure, but as in building structure and all that, all the cabins and that sort of thing are fine, which is great, because we are pretty well protected,” he said.
â€” Nine News Brisbane (@9NewsBrisbane) February 20, 2015
Cyclone Marcia also caused significant damage on Middle Percy Island off the Capricorn Coast.
Local resident Kate said it would take days to clean up.
“It’s still windy of course, the worst of it went over by about five o’clock,” she said.
“There are just so many broken trees, fruit trees, native trees, all just completely devastated. It’s just incredible. A completely new landscape.”
Marlborough postal contractor John Smith said the wind gusts were some of the heaviest he had seen.
“We’re sitting in the middle of the house just watching the warnings – basically we’ve got mattresses ready,” he said.
“We’ll be heading into what we think is the strongest part of the house if it comes to that.”
‘Anxious’ people among 500 sheltering at Yeppoon school
Paramedic Kate Cudmore, who is at the evacuation centre at Yeppoon High School, said about 500 people were sheltering there.
“Many people didn’t want to leave their homes, but because they’re in lower lying areas it was strongly encouraged,” she said.
“There is a lot of anxious people, a lot of people in a small area, so a lot of different family groups and mix of different people, so people probably feel very out of their comfort zones.”
Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow said the storm could ease to category three by the time it reaches the city.
“Still nothing to mess with – category three is a cyclone that will require people to get inside, be safe,” she said.
Further south, Bundaberg Mayor Mal Forman said authorities were taking advantage of relatively calm weather to doorknock residents.
“At the moment it’s very still here – there’s no rain at the moment, but it’s very eerie,” he said.
Fraser Coast Mayor Gerard O’Connell said the size of the storm had heightened awareness in his community.
“For the first time in the last 24 to 36 hours, Hervey Bay is now being included in those predictions, so we’re at the edge of that warning zone,” he said.
All eyes are on local river catchments where the western path of the storm could cause rivers to rise, depending on how much rain fell in the region.
Scores of schools and regional airports are closed and the Whitsunday Islands are in lockdown.
The Queensland Government said it had closed about 100 schools and childcare centres, with the posted on the Department of Education website.
Cyclone won’t weaken quickly, BOM says
â€” RACQ (@RACQOfficial) February 20, 2015
Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) senior forecaster Sam Campbell said the monster storm was not expected to weaken quickly, and would likely remain at least a category three until this evening, and possibly into Saturday.
“Even at 4:00pm [Friday] we expect it to stay at a category three cyclone,” he said.
Police Commissioner Ian Stewart earlier said a “desperate situation” was unfolding, and emergency service workers would themselves be forced to take cover.
“This is going to be a calamity, there is absolutely no doubt about that – our primary focus from this point on is the safety of all human life in that area,” he said.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said severe damage was expected and lives were at risk.
“Over the next few hours, many thousands of Queenslanders are about to go through a harrowing and terrifying experience,” she said.
“I want those people to know that we are with you every step of the way – we will be standing by your side – this a severe cyclone.”
Ms Palaszczuk said it was expected the cyclone, which was moving at 20kph, would pass through Rockhampton as a category three storm in the early afternoon.
“Can I please stress to everyone do not go outdoors. Stay inside your homes, that is the safest place to be during this time,” she said, adding that the noise of the cyclone “will be extreme”.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, speaking in Adelaide, said federal help would be offered to Queensland and NT communities affected by the cyclones.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Rockhampton, Gladstone particularly, because these are the areas most impacted,” he said.
“We are used to difficult and dangerous summers in this country – this is a very serious storm and let’s hope that we can get through it without too much damage and certainly without any loss of life.”
Torrential rain forecast
Heavy rain may lead to flash flooding, with some 24 hour totals expected in excess of 300 millimetres on the coast and nearby ranges.
On the Sunshine Coast, more than 140 millimetres of rain had fallen across some parts in the past 24 hours before 4:30am.
The highest falls were 143mm at Tewantin and 100mm at Gympie and Nambour.
There was some localised flash flooding, which was expected to worsen with a king tide later this morning.
Several roads were cut and more than 5,500 homes were blacked out.
There were also reports of a landslip at Hunchy Road in Montville in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
BoM regional director Rob Webb said the cyclone would dump between 200 millimetres and 300 millimetres of rain.
“Those falls up to 500 millimetres or more are possible,” he said.