Approaching tropical Cyclone Debbie claimed its first life on Monday (27 March) as authorities continued to evacuate thousands of people to safer places.
The storm was upgraded to a category 3 cyclone and is expected to grow fierce as it hits Queensland on Tuesday (28 March) morning with winds of over 120km/h and gusts of 200km/h.
As of 11am local time (1am BST), the storm was 375km east of Townsville and 250km east northeast of Bowen, the Australian reported. The Bureau of Meteorology predicted that Cyclone Debbie will turn into a category 4 storm just before it makes landfall between Rollingstone and Proserpine about 7am or 8am local time on Tuesday, with Townsville, Ayr and Airlie Beach expected to be the worst hit, according to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Associated Press.
The bureau's tracking map just after 11am Monday showed that the core of the cyclone was likely to make landfall close to Bowen. Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox said a small army crew had been deployed in Bowen and more were stationed in Townsville to tackle any emergency.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said winds up to 100kmh had already been recorded around Whitsunday Island and Proserpine. Noting that the approaching storm would be deadlier than Cyclone Yasi that hit the area in 2011, she said about 3,500 residents have already been evacuated from the area between Home Hill and Proserpine, while another 2,000 have been told to leave Bowen.
Amid reports that several residents were reluctant to leave their homes despite warnings, she urged the locals to "listen to expert advice" because the "window of opportunity to leave is drastically closing".
More than 100 schools have reportedly been closed across the north Queensland coast.
Police said a 31-year-old woman died in a car crash at Cannon Valley when caught in fierce winds in north Queensland, becoming the first victim of the super storm. The male driver escaped the crash unhurt while another occupant in the car received minor injuries.