Cyclone Debbie preparations under way at Home Hill, North Queensland.
Cyclone Debbie preparations under way at Home Hill, North Queensland. Cas Garvey

'Those who've lived through a cyclone will never forget'

BURDEKIN Mayor Lyn McLaughlin remembers when her friends had to hide their baby in a cupboard during Cyclone Aivu as it crossed the coast at Home Hill, between Townsville and Bowen, in 1989.

She remembers seeing all the structural damage to many of the buildings and homes in Ayr and Home Hill.s

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She remembers the power going out, and the flooding that followed as it moved south, with 1082mm recorded inland from Mackay in 72 hours and the Pioneer River reaching a peak of 13.2m.

She remembers her friends losing their home and their shed during the severe tropical cyclone, which was a Category 3 - a category below what Cyclone Debbie is forecast as it's expected to smash the coast sometime Tuesday morning.

As she said outside the Local Disaster Management Group meeting Sunday afternoon, "anyone who has been through a cyclone before, young or old, will never forget".

I was two years old and living in a small wooden house in Wilmington St, Ayr, when Cyclone Aivu hit. My dad remembers vividly the wheelie bins flying down our street, and huddling under the kitchen table with myself and my one year old brother waiting for it to pass.

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During Cyclone Yasi, just over six years ago, I was again huddled with my family in a house in Ayr as the wind roared around us.

While it crossed thousands of kilometres to the north of where we were, the effects of the Category 5 system were well and truly felt in the Burdekin.

Until you're actually in a cyclone, you don't actually believe how terrifying it can be.

Howling wind, torrential rain, sounds of cracking, trees and branches falling and smashing things, more howling wind and rain... and the alarming tone of the cyclone bulletin over the battery-operated radio cutting through the wind every hour to update listeners on when it's likely to be over.

Back at the Local Disaster Management Group in the Ayr council chambers of the Burdekin Shire Council, 60 members of emergency and community groups gathered for the latest on Cyclone Debbie.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Doug Fraser told the group that by 8am Monday, the bureau would have a "much more clearer picture" on exactly where Cyclone Debbie would cross the coast.

As of 6pm Sunday, the forecast track was putting the category 4 cyclone to cross at Alva Beach, at Ayr.

"By 10am (Monday) at the earliest is when we'll see 100kmh winds at Alva Beach, with the rainfall and gusty showers starting by about 6 or 7am and starting to move through," Mr Fraser said.

"We're expecting it to intensify to a Category 3 by midnight (Sunday) and then a Category 4 by midday (Monday)."


Cyclone Debbie's track map as at 5pm March 26, 2017.
Cyclone Debbie's track map as at 5pm March 26, 2017.

The mayor said she took a call earlier from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to discuss the region's preparations.

"I was really confident that all of our various agencies around the community have their plans in place so with the coordination centre, each of those groups need to report in so the (care) homes, the hospitals, Ergon, Telstra, SunWater, the police, all the emergency services," Mrs McLaughlin said.

"It's a wonderful community so I was happy to say to her that all of those groups have been attending and are well briefed and up to date with what's happening.

"(Ms Palaszczuk said) if we need some assistance to make sure we forward that through and just checking on the people of the Burdekin."

Cr McLaughlin said extra police, emergency management coordinator, QFES employees, swiftwater rescue and six defence force personnel had been deployed to the Burdekin and had arrived today to be on hand.

The final message to the community ahead of the worsening weather was to be prepared.

"This cyclone is real," Cr McLaughlin said.

"Because the weather hasn't changed and there's no rain and no wind at the moment, I don't want people to be complacent.

"The present indication that BoM is saying it is coming to the Burdekin shire, we will get the effects of a category 4 cyclone and I really want to ensure the community is safe and prepared."

Some parts of the Burdekin have already been asked to evacuate, including Alva Beach, Jerona, Wunjunga, Groper Creek and some areas of Rita Island.

"I think the people of the Burdekin are resilient and are well prepared," Cr McLaughlin said.

"The concern is around new residents who may not have been in a cyclone before and residents who may be travelling.

"And we've urged those who may be travelling to move to safer areas because experiencing a cyclone isn't a pleasant experience and anyone who's been through one will not forget."

The local disaster management group will again meet at 8.30am Monday to get the latest on Cyclone Debbie.