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Ferocious Cyclone Debbie batters north-eastern Australian coast

A potentially devastating cyclone is bringing heavy rainfall and hurricane-force winds to coastal areas of north-eastern Australia. Authorities are urging people to get out of the way of Cyclone Debbie.
Hundreds of kilometers of coastline along the Australian state of Queensland have been declared a danger zone as Cyclone Debbie bears down in the region. Authorities have warned a tidal surge could inundate low-lying homes.
The storm was upgraded overnight to category four, one level below the most dangerous wind speed level. Debbie's force has already been felt in the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands, with wind gusts of more than 220 kilometers (135 mph) per hour, forcing tourists to shelter in their locked-down hotels.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the region and more than 20,000 homes are without electricity. Authorities have reported damaged roofs and trees ripped out of the ground.
"We're getting some reports already of roofs starting to lift, including at some of our own facilities in the Whitsundays," Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Stephan Gollschewski said.
He told national ABC broadcaster that Debbie would remain a category three storm for some 18 hours after crossing the coast.

A 'monster'

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the evacuations were probably the largest the state had ever seen.
"We are in for a long, tough day," Palaszczuk said. "The intensity and ferocity of the winds is going to be gradually increasing. Everyone is bunkered down.
The storm has made landfall between the towns of Bowen and Airlie Beach. On social media, Bowen residents say weather conditions worsened as the storm approached.
Authorities have warned against complacency if it appears the storm might have calmed after making landfall.
Debbie is the most powerful storm to hit Queensland since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped houses from their foundations, destroyed crops and devastated island resorts.

jr/gsw (Reuters, dpa, AP),

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