Schools, ports closed as Cyclone Debbie advances towards north Qld coast

From Townsville down to Mackay, residents are bunkering down in preparation of what's tipped to be the worst cyclone to hit north Queensland since Yasi in 2011.

Cyclone Debbie is expected to make landfall near the town of Bowen in Far North Queensland around midday, local time.

Earlier: Debbie intensified to a Category 4 system at 11pm yesterday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

In a news briefing on Monday afternoon, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart urged people in these areas to drive to higher ground as far south as Rockhampton.

"And from the outset, I want to offer my prayers to those families, and I know that every Queenslander is behind you, and that every Australian is behind you".

"This'll be the biggest cyclone we've ever seen but we're all boarded up and will stick it out", resident Darrell Locke told The Courier-Mail.

The Abbot Point coal terminal and ports at Mackay and HayPoint were closed due to the storm, ports spokeswoman Fiona Cunningham said while BHP Billiton and Glencore suspended operations near the cyclone's expected path.

Mr Duncan says Hamilton Island now (7:30am NZT) has winds averaging 137km/h with gusts to 174km/h and it's still rising.

The Whitsunday Islands were already being battered by wind gusts of up to 190 km/h.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warned Cyclone Debbie is predicted to be category 4 or even 5 when it hits.

Some residents have refused to leave despite warnings that Cyclone Debbie's destructive core could be as wide as 62 miles (100km).

"Don't wait until tomorrow because you won't be able to move probably past midnight tonight", he said.

Cyclone shelters have already opened in Bowen and Prosperine and schools in Ayr in Prosperine are closed today.

The state government last night warned 25,000 people living in parts of Mackay to head to higher ground, as risky tidal surges of up to 1.7m were forecast.

"This is going to be a nasty cyclone", said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, adding that structural damage and power outages were likely.

"We are a little bit concerned as the wind is starting to pick up again".

"Please now reassure your children, go to the safest place in your house - the most secure".

Australia's military is moving into position to help authorities respond to the cyclone, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Monday.

Ms Palaszczuk said she was "very concerned" at the prospective tidal surge.

  • Leroy Wright