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Cyclone Debbie lashes Whitsunday Islands, cutting power

High winds and heavy rainfall batter resorts along Great barrier Reef, with some damage reported.

Coastal areas in northeast Australia were battered by high winds and heavy rainfall on Tuesday as a powerful cyclone, which prompted authorities to urge some 30,000 people to evacuate, hit island resorts along the Great Barrier Reef.

Cyclone Debbie was upgraded overnight to a category four storm, just one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

Authorities warned it could reach level five by the time it makes landfall around 2pm local time (03:00 GMT).

Wind gusts of more than 220km per hour lashed resorts in the Whitsunday Islands, where tourists waited out the storm in hotel rooms.

"We're getting some reports already of roofs starting to lift, including at some of our own facilities in the Whitsundays," Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

Authorities stockpiled food and fuel, and the army was on standby to deal with the aftermath.

However, as winds cut power to about 23,000 people, emergency response crews were also hunkered down until the storm blew over.

Authorities urged thousands of people in low-lying areas at risk from tidal surges and winds of up to 300 kph to flee their homes on Monday, in what would be the biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern city of Darwin in 1974.

However, police told Reuters they were not sure how many people had heeded that advice. Only about 400 people came to cyclone shelters as the winds gathered strength and made venturing outside dangerous.

Ports at Abbot Point, Mackay and Hay Point were shut, Townsville airport was closed and airlines Qantas, Jetstar, Rex and Virgin Australia cancelled several flights to and from the region.

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


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