Australia warns of 'calamity' as massive cyclone roars ashore

Australia warns of 'calamity' as massive cyclone roars ashore
Strong winds hit the coastal town of Yeppoon in north Queensland on February 20, 2015 after Tropical Cyclone Marcia made landfall.

GLADSTONE, AUSTRALIA - A powerful cyclone roared ashore in a heavily-populated area of Australia on Friday with authorities warning of a "calamity" and residents told to expect "a harrowing and terrifying experience".

Tropical Cyclone Marcia slammed into the Queensland coast just after 2200 GMT on Thursday (6am Singapore time on Friday) and is expected to cause significant damage after being upgraded to a category five, the most severe.

"Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia, category 5, is currently moving onto the Capricorn coast near Shoalwater Bay, north of Yeppoon," the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said.

Yeppoon, home to around 16,000 people, is some 670km north of Brisbane.

"It is expected to continue moving in a southerly direction over land close to the coast during today," the bureau added.

Massive seas, a deluge of rain, flash flooding and wind gusts of up to 295kmh were expected along with abnormally high tides.

"The wind is starting to really pick up," Katrina McDonald, who lives just outside Yeppoon, told the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper as the storm hit.

"The creek that runs through our property is roaring." Resort operator Sian Appleton said Great Keppel Island off Yeppoon was preparing for serious damage.

"We've lost a lot of sand, erosion has been fairly heavy," she told national broadcaster ABC.

"I think we'll probably lose three cabins and maybe even some of the bistro area." Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said it was a "desperate situation".

"This is going to be a calamity, no doubt about that," he said ahead of the tempest making landfall.

"Our primary focus from this point on is the safety of all human life in that area."

Two fishermen who were missing have since been found and no other major incidents have been reported so far, Stewart added, while urging people to stay indoors.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology's senior forecaster Sam Campbell said significant damage was expected.

"This is an extremely dangerous system," he said.

"There's likely to be significant damage to roofs, buildings, debris flying through the air, widespread power failures and really the potential for widespread destruction over the warning area."

STANDING BY YOUR SIDE

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the full brunt of the storm would be felt around the Yeppoon area before it eases to a category three as it travels south.

More than 60 schools have been closed and businesses shuttered. As far away as Brisbane, residents were urged to start sandbagging and clear their yards of any objects that could be whipped away by the wind.

"Over the next few hours, many thousands of Queenslanders are about to go through a harrowing and terrifying experience and I want those people to know that we are with you every step of the way," said Palaszczuk.

"We will be standing by your side. This a severe cyclone. I want everyone to take all the precautions that they possibly can take." She added that all Queensland hospitals had activated emergency plans and additional ambulance services had been moved to some areas.

Queensland has been smashed by several major storms and cyclones over the past few years with Cyclone Oswald, also a category five, flooding parts of the state in 2013, racking up insurance claims of some A$977 million (S$1 billion).

In a rare occurrence, a second big storm - Tropical Cyclone Lam - crossed the coast further north just hours earlier after intensifying to a category four overnight.

That area, around the Northern Territory Aboriginal communities of Milingimbi and Gapuwiyak, is far less populated.

Meteorologists described both storms as having a "very destructive" core.

Police said the remoteness of the region meant authorities were not yet able assess damage in the area.

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