Cyclone ravaged Queensland town Bowen 'looks like a war zone'

She said everyone in the inland town of Collinsville, where Debbie passed by as a downgraded category 2 storm overnight, appeared to be safe, but there is structural damage there.

Police said one man was badly hurt when a wall collapsed at Proserpine, about 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, and was taken to hospital.

Shortly before the eye of the storm reached the mainland, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology reported wind gusts of 262 kilometers per hour at nearby Hamilton Island where tourists were taking shelter in hotels.

Australia's military sent vehicles, aircraft and supplies to the region, and clean-up efforts were expected to begin later Wednesday.

"It sounds like you got a jumbo jet sitting on the roof of your house", Collins said by telephone of the wind roaring outside. Meanwhile, one of his other daughters — whom he described as "a real weather nerd" — was enthralled with the storm, and was diligently listening to the radio for updates on its path.

"Go to the Whitsundays they said, it'd be fun they said, attractive weather over here", holidaymaker Kurt Moore told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Authorities had urged thousands of people in threatened areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

"Conditions have deteriorated rapidly", Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an address to Parliament. In a statement the ATA said: "As there are additional dangers and difficulties created during a storm, a responsible driver should plan their driving time and route to ensure they are not on the road during a storm event".

Insurers are also bracing for a storm of claims in the wake of the cyclone. The area produces a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, mangoes and peppers.

  • Julie Sanders