Floods in Australia from Cyclone Debbie Force 40,000 to Evacuate

Australian authorities have told about 40,000 people to evacuate to higher ground as flash flooding in the aftermath of ex-Cyclone Debbie worsens.

The storm hit Queensland’s most populous region on Thursday after pummelling the north-east coast for two days.

The state’s capital, Brisbane, was hit with 20cm (8ins) of rain in two hours.

More than 2,000 schools have been forced to close as tens of thousands of people remain without power.

“We have not seen the worst of this weather system in the south-east,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Every school in an almost 600km (370 miles) area stretching from Agnes Water to Coolangatta will remain closed until at least Monday, she said.

Authorities pleaded with people to stay off roads and close shops, saying dozens of people had been rescued from floodwaters.

“Now is the time to leave. Do not delay. Evacuation orders are mandatory,” New South Wales State Emergency Service said on Twitter on Thursday.

Rescues under way

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said it was “extraordinary” there had not been more injuries, criticising one person seen on a jet ski.

“What our worst fears are is that people do silly things like this, and this is when the tragedy will occur,” she told the local Nine Network.

“Please keep your children away from drains [and] stay in your house.”

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said parts of south-east Queensland could see up to 40cm of rain on Thursday.

“What we know is that we are anticipating the heavy falls in a short duration of time,” senior forecaster Matthew Bass said.

Resorts along the Whitsunday coast bore the brunt of the storm with wind gusts of more than 260 kph (160 mph).

Assessing damage

Cyclone Debbie made landfall in north-east Queensland as a category four system on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said nature was “flinging her worst” at Australians.

“It is going to take some time to recover, and that’s why we are here to show our support and commitment,” he said from Bowen, a damaged town in northern Queensland.

Authorities in Queensland said on Thursday that 61,000 homes remained without power, and there was major damage to buildings, sugar cane and tomato crops.

Tourism operators state-wide reported cancelled bookings and anticipated long-term disruption to their trade.

Meanwhile, thousands of insurance claims have already been filed, but the state’s insurers said it was too early to accurately assess the cost of the damage.

The cyclone is also likely to have damaged the Great Barrier Reef, marine experts warned.