Thousands of residents in Queensland, northeastern Australia have been ordered to leave their homes as severe tropical cyclone Debbie approaches land, bringing with it powerful winds and heavy rain.
The storm is set to intensify from a category three to category four cyclone before it makes landfall near the town of Ayr on Tuesday morning local time (late Monday ET).
Cyclone Debbie is forecast to pack gusts of up to 150 mph (240 kph), as well as flash flooding and storm surges as high as four meters.
Based on sustained wind speed, Debbie looks set to be equivalent to a strong category one or weak category two Atlantic hurricane, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Monday morning that 3,500 residents had already been evacuated.
A further 2,000 people have been ordered to evacuate in the Bowen area, as the cyclone has tracked further south than originally predicted, she added.
Some residents are refusing to leave their home, Palaszczuk said, with police going door to door Monday in a final attempt to get people to safety.
“This is going to be a nasty cyclone,” Palaszczuk told press Monday morning.
“There is no time for complacency … the window of opportunity to leave is drastically closing. I am just pleading to everyone, please, listen to authorities. This is about your safety, it is about the safety of your family and the safety of your children.”
Cyclone Debbie is the largest storm to hit Queensland since the category five cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped homes from their foundations and destroyed farmland. Debbie could end up being as severe as Yasi, Palaszczuk warned Monday.
John D Ginger, research director at the Cyclone Testing Station at James Cook University, said that coastal buildings were most at risk.
“Houses in low-lying coastal regions … and are subjected to storm surge, will be vulnerable to significant damage,” he said.
The timing of cyclone Debbie’s expected landfall coincides with a 12-foot (3.65-meter) high tide in Bowen, one of the highest tides of the year, according to CNN affiliate 7 News.
“If you are in a storm surge zone and you are directed to leave — you must leave. You cannot shelter from a storm surge,” Queensland police tweeted Monday.
The severe weather has already claimed the life of a 31-year-old woman after dangerous conditions were linked to a fatal car crash Sunday night near the town of Proserpine, Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart said.
Over 1,000 emergency service workers have been sent to the region in preparation, and all schools remain closed until further notice, 7 News reported.