Tropical Cyclone Debbie is likely to be the worst cyclone since Yasi hit as a category five hit in 2011, the Bureau of Meteorology has warned.
Communities in far north Queensland have been told to evacuate as the cyclone bears down on the state, with authorities warning of potentially devastating winds, rain and tidal surges.
On Sunday afternoon winds at the centre were 110 km/ph per hour, with wind gusts up to 155 km/ph .
The warning from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is in place for Ayr to St Lawrence including Bowen, Mackay, and the Whitsunday Islands. Nearby areas, including Innisfail and Townsville are on cyclone watch.
Debbie is expected to smash into the mainland sometime Tuesday morning, probably near the town of Ayr.
The threat is so severe that residents in coastal towns and communities of the Whitsundays council area have been told to leave as Debbie tracks towards it.
The evacuation order covers coastal communities from Cape Upstart, north of Bowen, to Lethebrook, south of Proserpine, the ABC reports.
BoM said on Sunday that sustained winds near the centre of Debbie were at 100 kilometres per hour, with wind gusts of up to 140 km/h.
The cyclone was about 500 kilometres east northeast of Townsville and moving slowly towards the coast, the weather bureau said. The system is currently tracking at 6km/h.
"We are expecting gale winds to start developing along the coast this afternoon and evening." - @BOM_Qld's Andrew Watkins— ABC Emergency (@ABCemergency) March 25, 2017
"Today people should ensure their plan is in action, making sure they're prepared and supplied." - #Burdekin Mayor Lyn McLaughlin— ABC Emergency (@ABCemergency) March 25, 2017
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said a key focus was preparing smaller communities that do not have cyclone shelters.
She said getting the state ready for Debbie's impact was the government's top priority.
"I need 100 per cent focus on this and cabinet has been rescheduled until later in the week," she told reporters in Brisbane.
Senior BoM meteorologist Adam Morgan said there was some uncertainty about exactly when the cyclone would hit land, with early Tuesday the most likely time.
Cyclone Debbie: weather bureau predicts airborne debris and power failures https://t.co/mOx0g5RLDe— Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) March 25, 2017
He also did not rule out Debbie reaching category 5 classification -- the highest possible level.
"The main uncertainty is in terms of timing, whether it speeds up or slows down a bit and that's really important ... if it does slow down even more it could see more time for it to develop over water and we can't rule out Category 5 at this stage," he told the ABC.
Queensland Emergency Services and Fire Commissioner Katarina Carroll said authorites were treating the cyclone threat very seriously.
"We've been preparing for a number of days now," Carroll told Network Nine.
"It is increasing rapidly as it approaches the coast. We're expecting later today that it will be a category 3 and the longer it stays over water that is likely to increase."
BoM said gales were expected to develop about the exposed coast and islands between Ayr and Mackay during Sunday, and could extend further south to St Lawrence on Sunday night.
Destructive winds with gusts over 125 km/h were expected to develop about the exposed coast and islands between Lucinda and Mackay on Monday afternoon or evening.
Abnormally high tides, flash flooding and heavy rain were also predicted to lash impacted areas.
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